Written by Laura Baranik
The noodle bar is a concept familiar to Western restaurant-goers, who have long embraced the import of these generally inexpensive, minimalist, noodle-sautéing mini-restaurants from Asia. But it´s been a long time coming in Prague – post-revolution, the closest thing has been the ubiquitous čínské bistro (Chinese bistro), where, in miserable surroundings, you can get a half-decent plate of ramen for next to nothing.
Now a couple of places have opened up that are worthy of the noodle bar moniker, the newest being The Noodle Bar – Noodle.cz (it´s not made clear anywhere, but I think it´s officially called Noodle.cz, a name that my innate sensitivity to real-life dotsomething establishments finds a bit grating). Noodle.cz is, on first glance, super-hip, with a crackingly original interior crafted by designer Lucie Fejková. Its location on Prague 2´s Plavecká is at the moment a little less than hip, but judging by the recent influx of cool new eateries (see next-door´s Oliva), the area shouldn´t be a dud for long.
The pomelo salad is also excellent; juicy bits of pomelo are tossed with spongy shrimp and topped by a sprinkling of crunchy fried onions. A subtle chili-lime sauce and a few sprigs of fresh mint keep this summery dish refreshingly light. Surprisingly airy, too, is the sticky black rice, which arrives as a small glass of purplish rice grains topped, rather like a latte, with a half-inch layer of coconut milk. Having been steamed with vanilla and cinnamon sticks, the rice doesn´t need much sugar to be flavorful – a good stir-in of the coconut milk makes for a gently sweet, nutty dessert.
It´s hard to find missteps here, as even the service is prompt and professional, though maybe, with the restaurant newly opened, a little too eager. I love the fact that Noodle.cz is non-smoking, and that its menu has symbols next to the dishes that denote not only their level of spiciness, but also which ones are vegetarian or contain coconut or peanuts (coming from a family where peanut allergy is an issue, I have too often been witness to peanut attacks at restaurants that should be perfectly avoidable). There´s even a Wi-Fi connection and a couple of computers in the back.
Following all these good omens, I was downright mournful when my chicken Phad Thai turned out to be not-so-great. All the ingredients seemed to be there, but the result was completely bland. More than half-full and still expecting dessert, I asked for the noodles to be wrapped up, which they were, in a lovely red paper box, complete with chopsticks. When I finished the Phad Thai at home a few hours later, they were unexpectedly delicious. Hmmm could they have replaced my tasteless initial portion with a miraculously flavorful new batch?
Unlikely. The noodles had been steaming hot when I first tried them, so they had probably come right off the gas flame and into my bowl. Now that they´d had time to sit, the flavors had melded together and I was eating a Phad Thai as good as any I´ve had in Prague. A quality noodle bar is definitely needed in these parts, and at the fundamental level, this kitchen knows its stuff – I just hope they can get their timing right.