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Noodle Scoop

Christopher Gardner

These three spots are must-stops for vegetarians and lovers of Asian noodles

By Andrew X. Pham

SLENDER AND SUPPLE like spring vines, vibrantly young, firmly bodied like fruits, gorgeous and playful in every way, fresh handmade noodles are strictly an affair of the heart. Something to be savored at least once a week. Something that makes even a long journey worthwhile. Here are three destinations for noodle lovers.

Loon Wah Restaurant (1146 De Anza Blvd., San Jose, 408/257-1642) serves some of the best hand-pulled noodles in the Bay Area. In its new location, the restaurant is a contempo black-and-aquamarine takeoff on the popular Hong Kong style (posh but hurried in a very Chinese way). Few vegetarian items appear on the menu: The noodle soups all have meat-based stock. There is a vegetarian chow mein, but it's made with noodles bought elsewhere. The key is to order the chow mein with hand-pulled noodles. The restaurant will accommodate, although the kitchen slips now and then. (Don't be shy about sending the dish back if they forget to use hand-pulled noodles.) The hand-pulled noodles are almost as fat as chopsticks and have an al dente constitution that gives new meaning to chow mein. The cook woks two fistfuls of these noodles with soy sauce, pepper, shitake mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, carrots, bamboo shoots, broccoli and watercress. At $5.50, this is one bargain dish, considering the labor involved in pulling fresh noodles.

Another type of fresh, fat noodle can be had at Sushi Zen (1305 N. First St., San Jose, 408/453-1071). Despite the name, the udon noodles (served during lunch only) are far better than the first-rate sushi. Satiny between the lips and resilient between the teeth, Sushi Zen's udon has reigned as the best in the area for years. An order of vegetarian tempura udon ($7) is a wrist-deep porcelain bowl of noodles in a vegetable broth and topped with vegetable tempura. For vegetarians, it is best to order the tempura on the side, because the kitchen sometimes inadvertently adds a prawn. Another thing to note is that the kitchen uses a bit of dashi, a light stock faintly flavored with dried bonito, a type of mackerel, in its broth.

One famed spot for many practicing Buddhists and Catholics is Quang Da (348 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose, 408/297-3402). Mi quang chay ($4.50, in the vegetarian section of the menu) works well as an introduction to this specialty from central Vietnam. Doused with a vegetable and lime stock, a generous knot of yellow house-made rice noodles, flat and long, provides a vehicle for bean sprouts, cilantro, bamboo shoots, scallion, chopped peanuts, chile paste, shiitake mushrooms, chopped lettuce and fried soybean cakes with a side of lime and chile soy sauce. This entree makes for a very light but flavorful meal.

Nothing satiates an empty stomach like a bowl of fresh noodles.

Send Bargain Bites tips by email or call 408/298-8000, extension 441.

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From the Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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