Lunch Box : Issei Noodle House
Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of stopping by Issei Noodle House with a friend. The small restaurant is located downtown on High Street on the same block as the historic Carlisle Theatre. As its name implies, the Asian fusion cuisine showcases noodle dishes from the Pacific Rim, though rice bowls have made a more recent appearance on the menu; the majority of meals are Japanese or Vietnamese inspired. Dishes are made with one of three noodles – thin rice “vermicelli” noodles, ramen noodles, or udon noodles – each of which reflects the heritage of the dish, though substitutions can be made for a small fee. The menu’s main categories are noodle sautés, warm noodle soups (called “broth noodles”), hot stir-fried rice bowls, and cold noodle salads; there are also several appetizers, desserts, and vegetarian options available.
My friend and I have both been there several times since I moved back to the area in 2008. We both have always been huge fans of all Issei’s varieties of “Pho” (a hot Vietnamese rice noodle soup), but this past time we both wanted to try something a bit different. Due to another friend’s recommendation, I ordered the Gomoku White Miso Ramen (Broth Noodle number 10) – however, with rice noodles instead of the ramen – and my dining companion tried the Yasai Udon Yaki (Vegetarian dish number 4). Each gigantic dish cost nine dollars, but my noodle substitution added an extra dollar on to the price.
The Gomoku White Miso Ramen is a meatless soup, but is made with chicken broth. Along with the noodles, it features a copious amount of fresh vegetables – in my bowl, broccoli, baby corn, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, green onion, red bell peppers, and bok choy – swimming in a white miso broth. This broth is what truly sets this dish as special among Issei’s selection. It has a full-bodied, rich miso flavor – slightly sweet, slightly salty, and very satisfying. This may very well become my new standby dish when visiting this restaurant; it is unique, delicious, and refreshing. I highly recommend this choice, and for those who want more protein with their meal tofu, chicken, pork, or beef can be added. However, I feel it is satisfying and complete as served.
The Yasai Udon Yaki, which my friend allowed me to sample, is a pan-fried noodle dish. It is also served in a “sweet creme miso sauce” similar to the aforementioned soup’s amazing broth. The Udon noodles, which are wheat-based and much thicker and chewier than the rice noodles, are mixed with tofu and the same vegetables as were in the soup. The miso flavor was not as strong as in the soup, but the texture of the noodles and the freshness of the vegetables still made it a delicious meal. My friend liberally doused her plate in plum (hoisin) sauce, which she said complemented the sweet miso quite nicely.
To drink, we both ordered Genmaicha, a Japanese roasted green tea. Having been informed on a previous visit by a waiter that it is traditionally not sweetened, I did not add any sugar to mine. The bold, distinctly roasted flavor, which is quite different from other green teas, needs no sweet addition and in my opinion is best savored straight, just as the waiter suggested.
Issei Noodle is very unpretentious and informal: tables are jam-packed together in the often extremely busy restaurant, reservations are not available, cash is preferred, and payment is completed at the counter (the check is rarely given at the table). Conveniently, the prices on the menu are exactly what you pay; the tax is already included. With the exception of some drinks and one appetizer, all prices are in whole dollars (those that aren’t are in simple quarter amounts, for example $1.25). For both of our drinks and entrées, the total was $21.50 – while slightly higher than I like to pay for an à la carte lunch, the quality, quantity, and uniqueness of the offerings make the few extra dollars worth it.
Reviewer CP | April 2012