I read an article on the Internet a while ago on how certain colors can affect one’s appetite. Red seems to be the one that will make a tummy growl and a mouth water with anticipation.
It also is the color of celebration in Asian countries. People insert gifts of money in a lucky red envelope trimmed with gold. Ironically, red is my favorite color.
I immediately got big eyes as I stepped into Cheu Noodle Bar in Center City. It is a casual place with a long bar where one can watch the chefs make magic with their woks, along with a window banquette and a high-top table in the back.
The tin ceiling and back wall are both painted a bright lipstick red. A multi-colored mural graces another wall. Music on the sound system ran the gamut from Simon & Garfunkel to Crosby, Stills & Nash to rap and hip-hop.
House wines by the glass ($5) were a downright bargain. I sipped a grassy Sauvignon Blanc ($8.50) from Chile while Edward opted for Blue Coat on the rocks with a twist ($7).
The friendly staff keeps the momentum going like a summer breeze. From the small plates, we selected a pork belly slider ($2.50), dumplings of the day ($5), broccoli with Vietnamese sausage and peanuts ($8) and octopus ($10).
Pork belly must be braised a long time for it to be tender. This one was, and I especially liked the homemade kimchee pickle on top as it added a spicy kick. Imagine what might happen if a pierogi met a pork dumpling and had an offspring. Four round dumplings were filled with seasoned mashed potatoes and tender pork and served in chili oil. It produced a party in my mouth.
A fine contrast of flavors and textures was evident in the broccoli appetizer. A good-size bowl of steamed broccoli florets was tossed with bits of Vietnamese sausage, topped with chopped peanuts and bathed in a light and not-at-all-salty soy sauce. Beef and broccoli is a standard dish in many Asian restaurants, but the use of sausage was an unusual and tasty twist.
The entrees are noodle bowls that patrons slurp with delight. I’ve enjoyed wonton noodle soup with bok choy with either pork or duck in a number of Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. But creativity and imagination are the highlight at Cheu Noodle Bar when it comes to the art of making soup.
We tucked into two different big bowls. One was brisket ($13) and the other duck pho ($14).
Brisket is one tough piece of meat that must cook in liquid for at least four hours to come out fork, or should I say, chopstick tender. The squares of meat melted in my mouth. The big surprise was a fluffy matzo ball, which needed a hint of salt. The base for the chili broth was Korean-inspired. It packed an even punch of spice, but was certainly not four-alarm. Kimchee, bean sprouts, a hint of sesame and long, thin egg noodles kept me quite happy. I used my chopsticks to separate the noodles and slurped them with delight.
The flavor of the duck pho was quite different. Fresh lime juice imparted a marvelous sour flavor that enhanced slivers of duck, very tender foie meatballs and rice noodles. The portions were so generous, some soup was packed to go for the next day’s lunch.
The only disappointing dish was the octopus ($10). Although it had a fine consistency, it needed some char on the outside. I also found the sauce a little sweet.
Service moves along at a good pace. Two women were in charge of the woks and sauté pans, expertly filling orders as the tickets came in. Several servers kept everyone happy as they slurped along in the bright red room.
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.
Three tips of the toque to Cheu Noodle Bar.
255 S. 10th St.