Thursday, January 12, 2006

Restaurant Review: Noodles & Company

noodles menu
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

I just returned from a surprisingly good lunch at a fast foodish restaurant (and aren't those good lunches always the most surprising?) My friend Karen, her baby twins and I suburbed it up this morning, heading to Target, then to a newly revitalized shopping center in Hunt Valley, about 25 minutes north of Baltimore.

Neither of us was in the mood for any specific type of food, and neither of us was in the mood to make a decision about where to go. We chose Noodles & Company almost by default - they were close to the car and the babies were getting heavy (as a side note, it is amazing how many people comment on twins.)

Once inside the restaurant, we hit a streak of pleasant surprises. It was bright and clean and nice-looking in that open, minimal decor sort of way. The staff was friendly and helpful. The food was very, very inexpensive. And the menu was diverse and interesting.

As the name suggests, Noodles & Company offers a lot of dishes with noodles. Italian, Thai, Indian, Chinese, American - there's a great variety.

Despite the many options, Karen and I managed to order variations of the same thing: Spicy Peanut Noodle Salad. The menu describes it as: "Warm rice noodles and chilled crisp greens tossed ina spicy peanut dressing topped with cucumber, carrot, Asian sprouts and crushed peanut."

That description just about covers it, though I didn't actually notice any crushed peanut on my salad. We both ordered the small salad, which was absolutely enough. Karen topped hers with grilled chicken and I added sauteed shrimp to mine. The shrimp weren't big, but there were eight of them, and I was super surprised to find that they were cooked just the right amount. I fully expected rubbery, overdone shrimp. Not so.

In fact, just about everything was very good. We ordered our food at a counter and it was brought to our table by a very polite waiter. The dressing was great - subtly spicy most of the time, with a nice peanut base, and occasional kicks of heat. The greens were fresh and the presentation was lively (and, naturally, I forgot my camera.)

The only drawbacks (and they are minor) were that the plates were too small for the amount served, so we spilled a fair amount on the table, and the rice noodles were a little bit underdone. Not terribly so, though.

We'll definitely go back again. The girls even seemed to like it - they were on their absolute best behavior the entire time we sat in the restaurant.

It wasn't until we got in the car that they started crying. Clearly, they were jealous of our fantastic lunch.

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