My Yummy Lan Zhou review plans fell through recently when my babysitter canceled last minute. In an act of scheduling desperation, I packed up my 1-year-old daughter and brought her along to Chinatown, praying that she’d either a) fall asleep in the high chair or b) be adequately distracted by the Cheerios I’d planned on scattering in front of her at the table to allow me to focus on the food.
Turns out I hadn’t even considered the entertainment factor: For the next hour and a half, she sat there utterly mesmerized by the slapping and twisting and stretching of the dough in the kitchen window, her joy egged on by my guest and the charming waitstaff. Who needs coloring books and crayons when you have live entertainment like this?
As for the food, it justifies what so many of us have muttered beneath our breath while waiting for a table at Race Street’s Nan Zhou: Chinatown needed another hand-drawn option, if for no other reason than space.
And what an excellent option it is. Spacious and elegant, the chandeliers cast a mustard-toned glow against muted yellow walls. The service is exceptionally friendly, even when there are language issues.
The menu is in a state of flux right now. As the kitchen continues to expand its repertoire, you’ll likely find unexpected gifts throughout the meal. The “aromatic mixed platter” appetizer, for example, was only supposed to contain beef, tendon and pig ears. That would have been just fine with me. The cool sliced meat, all nutty and striated, was like some sort of perfect leftover brisket; the tendon snapped with each bite; the gently spiced ears did their little gelatin jiggle in the grip of the chopsticks. But the real star of the plate was the unexpected (and unlisted with the platter) marinated intestines, thin strips of organ topped with a frizzle of villi that looked like some sort of bird’s nest in cross-section. It was among the cleanest-tasting, most easily lovable intestines I’ve eaten all year.
Beef ribs, which aren’t on the menu yet but should be soon, are also reason enough to stop by. Slow-cooked for hours and nearly falling off the bone, these thick slabs of meat had been permeated by the earthy spice of their cooking liquid, as different in texture and flavor from their American counterpart as anything in the neighborhood, totally devoid of the seemingly requisite slick of sticky, honey-and-hoisin glaze on top and all the better for it. (Our waiter brought out tastes to a couple tables, ostensibly as a way to gauge customer reaction.)
Noodles, however, are the expected star here, and the real reason for a visit. Noodle with pork soy sauce relied on a mound of silky pasta slightly thicker than standard ramen in gauge. It looked basic enough upon arrival: bone-colored noodles and the deep-umber pork ground up and glistening. Mixing it all, however, revealed a base of sweet-salty soy, ribbons of lettuce, and the occasional fleck of chili. Taken together, it’s easily one of the most satisfying $5 you can spend in the city.
Seafood noodle soup was notable for its broth, a clear, light-bodied liquid taut with five spice whose aromatics had permeated both the springy strands as well as the generous selection of seafood. And while the scallops were a touch tough, and the fish balls bland and briny at once, the shrimp were thick and scented with star anise, the clams like little jewels.
Shaved noodles are where Yummy Lan Zhou really makes its mark. The ragged-edged noodles are like sponges for whatever sauce they’re anointed with. They shine especially bright with egg and vegetable, the delicate savoriness of the soy-based sauce, the bright chlorophyll snap of the baby bok choy, the earthy egg all layered together into a study in subtlety.
Yummy Lan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House is one of the more exciting and affordable Chinatown openings this year. You can eat beautifully for around $10 a person and still bring some home for any midnight emergencies you may have. And if you have kids, bring ’em along: They’ll love the show, and it sure beats shelling out more money for a babysitter.
131 N. 10th St.
Cuisine type: Noodle-centric.
Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11am-9:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-10pm.
Price range: $2.50-$9.
Atmosphere: Comfortable and welcoming.
Food: Delicious noodles, and well-prepared meat and offal.
Service: Enthusiastic and helpful, with some language issues.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014