Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 16/3/2016 (1681 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If you do one thing very, very well, then you really don’t have to do anything else.
That’s the philosophy at work at Dancing Noodle, a Pembina Highway strip-mall resto that churns out chewy Chinese noodles and not much of anything else.
There are precisely 11 items on the Dancing Noodle menu, five of them showcasing the hand-pulled noodles chef Xiaofei (Bill) Zuo wrestles out of wads of dough in the kitchen at the back of the smallish Fort Garry space.
While Zuo isn’t the only chef in Winnipeg pulling Chinese noodles — there’s also Flying Noodle on Isabel Street and Golden Loong further south on Pembina — his little spot is the only one with a diner vibe that encourages people to stop in, slurp and get the hell out to make room for other patrons. There are only four sit-down tables, a four-seat counter along the front window and a low-slung couch that ought to be tossed to make room for more appropriate noodle-slurping space.
You come for one of five dishes featuring the fruits of Zuo’s knuckle-straining labour. All are good and some are excellent, thanks to firm, properly alkaline noodles that offer just the right amount of resistance to your teeth. (The first episode of the first season of Mind of a Chef, available on Netflix, explains the chemistry that makes this work.)
Zuo’s noodle bowls are not meant to be shared. Nor will you want to. The largest among them is "noodle with beef and potato sauce," a bowl of fat, udon-like, hand-pulled noodles moistened with a splash of delectably oily broth, a few thin slices of beef and small chunks of potatoes cooked toward a state of caramelization. It’s as close to a perfect bowl of noodles as you will find in Winnipeg.
Prefer skinnier noodles? Go for dandan noodle, which is a bowl of ramen-like noodles covered in minced pork, minced peanuts and a peanut butter sauce. This is the North American version of dandanmian, a dish from from Sichuan province in central China, which is soupier and spicer. If you like the sweet westernized take on pad Thai, you will love this.
Also excellent is the one true soup on the menu: "traditional Lanzhou beef noodle," named after a city in Gansu, the province to the north of Sichuan. The same ramen-thickness noodles are covered in a pho-like broth, which smells of star anise, and garnished with a few slices of stewed beef and daikon, some shredded green onions and a splash of house-made chili oil. It rivals anything in the best Vietnamese noodle house.
The two other noodle bowls are merely good. "Noodle with pork sauce" is dressed with a dark brown paste that contained small chunks of pork, fermented soy beans, Sichuan peppers and plenty of oil, which pools in the bottom of the bowl once you’ve mixed all the noodles.
"Cold noodle with sauce," meanwhile, is a vegetarian option. Zuo’s skinny noodles are topped with shredded carrots, shredded cucumbers and minced peanuts and dressed with sesame oil and chili.
Beyond the noodles, there is a handful of sides. "Spiced eggs" are hard-boiled eggs that have been bathed in a tangy broth. The "beef burrito" really is a burrito: a flour tortilla, stuffed with lettuce and some of thin slices of stewed beef that end up on the noodle bowls. It’s merely OK.
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Those same beef slices are available solo in a cold dish of "beef seasoned with soy sauce." The "seasonal flavoured vegetable salad" turns out to be a small dish of glass noodles and what appeared to be crunchy seaweed. I didn’t sample similar small dishes or cucumber or tomato-lettuce salads.
To drink, there’s nothing but soda pop and tap water. There are no alcoholic beverages. There’s no coffee and there isn’t even any Chinese tea.
As Zuo explains, they only serve pop at noodle joints like this in China. In other words, you don’t come to Dancing Noodle to drink.
You come for the noodles and only the noodles, and that’s OK.
Rating: ★★★ (very good)
1393-A Pembina Hwy.
No website. 204-691-0205
● Go for: Chewy hand-pulled Chinese noodles, either drowned in broth or moistened with a heavily seasoned sauce.
● Best bets: Noodle with beef and potato sauce, dandan noodle and traditional Lanzhou beef noodle.
● Mains: $7.99 to $11.99 Sides: $0.99 to $6.99
● Open: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
No stars: Not recommended.
One star: OK. Does at least one thing very well. Bottom line: There has to be a reason to go.
Two stars: Good. At minimum, must offer food and/or beverages of good quality. There have to be several reasons to visit such a place.
Three stars: Very good. At minimum, consistently offers food/beverages of high quality, as well as capable service.
Four stars: Excellent. Consistently offers food/ beverages of extremely high quality and very strong service.
Five stars: Exceptional. Consistently offers food/beverages of unusual quality and procurement with tremendous creativity and flawless service.