At Lan City Hand Pulled Noodles
by Lee Lawrence
From the October, 2018 issue
He was just too quick for me. For several minutes I watched the noodle maker stretch lumps of fresh wheat flour dough into piles of noodles, dump them unceremoniously into a boiling wok, and snatch them out after a minute or two to add to steaming bowls of broth. Still, I couldn't work out how he multiplied the strands, which gradually fell into thinner and ever-increasing necklaces as he brought his hands together and then swept his arms apart. It took several subsequent viewings of slow-motion demonstrations on YouTube to grasp that he was folding the strands each time before pulling the now-doubled noodles thinner.
Now, watching through the kitchen window at Lan City Hand Pulled Noodles, a new Chinese restaurant in Thai Thai's former location on Washtenaw, I have a better sense of how the noodle maker performs his magic. And magic it is--like children twisting and looping string into a cat's cradle, he manipulates the fresh dough into chewy, springy noodles in your specified width--from linguine to extra-wide--that is so much more delicious than dried machine-made ones. With these noodles, the taste is in the texture.
Since English isn't always a first language at Lan City, it took us a few visits to suss out all the various ways the hand-pulled noodles appear on the menu. Most come in soups, though there are three "dry" options, with pour-over sauces. (On my visits, those were numbers 3, 10, and 12.)
We watched admiringly as Asian patrons deftly used chopsticks to slowly tease out the very long noodles from the tangle in their bowls, twisting them carefully onto their soup spoons, and eating them with alternating sips of broth. But we quickly understood why the waitress on our first visit brought us, unprompted, not only forks but also blunt-nosed scissors to cut the noodles, anticipating our impatient clumsiness. Neither my husband nor I, though usually at least competent with chopsticks, could manage without serious noodle "whiplash" and
stained shirtfronts. And while no one brought us scissors on subsequent visits, I felt no embarrassment in resorting to a fork as my favored tool.
The soup options span the typical protein choices--beef, pork, chicken, and seafood--and a few less usual ones as well--duck, lamb, and tripe. All come in enormous bowls with bits of mostly bone-in meat, a piece of bok choy, and herbs. Soy sauce and a potent hot sauce sit on the table for added seasoning, which some broths need more than others. The most interesting of the soups we tried--perhaps because it comes more highly garnished than the others--is the "Chong Qing" bowl, with its broth sparked with Szechuan pepper and its surface dotted with soybeans, peanuts, and pickled vegetables.
For lush eating--silky sauces coating supple noodles--I tended to prefer the dry alternatives, particularly the Dan Dan bowl. Though the ground pork sauce is different--tangy, not spicy--from the Szechuan style I've eaten before, I favored it over the Peking-style option, which bathes the meat in a black bean sauce. Both bowls come garnished with shredded cucumber and scallion and a halved hard-boiled egg.
Hand-pulled isn't Lan City's only option for fresh wheat noodles--you can also order them knife-cut. For these, the maker holds a great lump of stiff dough in his left hand and uses a special knife--much like a large vegetable peeler--in his right to shave thick wedges directly into boiling water. I tried these as a dried option with hot pepper oil sauce--also heavily enhanced with raw garlic--and decided that, while I appreciated the sauce, I would've preferred the lighter stretched noodles.
Heavy on carbohydrates, moderate on protein, and quite light on greenery, most of Lan City's noodles could use a side of vegetables. We learned to augment our orders with selections from the "cold dishes" column, which are just as interesting as the noodles. Fresh cucumber salad is thick chunks, smashed and soaked in a gingery marinade. The seaweed salad coats rough slashes of dark green gelatinous kelp, as thick and slippery as the noodles, in chili oil. And the shredded potato salad is a plate of evenly stacked shoestrings, cooked only enough to remove their raw edge, tossed with a mouth-tingling dressing.
Lan City's menu also lists an array of appetizers--we sampled only the fine homemade scallion pancake--a few rice noodle (not handmade) options, and a scattering of standard Chinese stir-fries and Asian dishes. But watching the bowls and bowls of fragrant noodles pass by on their way to those seated earlier, and enjoying our own, I'm not sure why anyone would make any choice but the hand-pulled noodles. While, as my husband joked, "that guy's just noodlin' around," his results are certainly no waste of time.
Lan City Hand Pulled Noodles
2612 Washtenaw Ave., Ypsilanti
Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.,
Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Appetizers and cold dishes $3.35-$9.95; noodles, stir-fries, and rice dishes $8.95-$11.95
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