Noodles are the focus at Fun Noodle Bar, but the real stars of the show are the cooks behind the counter who create them.
During a recent visit, one of the cooks worked the dough like a virtuoso, stretching and winding it, swinging it like a jump rope and slamming it onto the counter. After a few minutes, the length of dough had been transformed into a filigree of delicate noodles bound for the Northeast Heights restaurant’s ramen bowls.
After that, a different cook stepped in and prepared shaved noodles by feverishly slicing away at a frozen block of dough with a knife. Strips flew off like birds taking flight. The patrons who filled the dining room that day appeared captivated.
The Albuquerque location of Fun Noodle Bar is the second outpost of a chain established in Odessa, Texas, last year by restaurateur Steve Lin. It’s been open since the summer on the west side of an L-shaped strip mall next to Baillio’s.
The interior is sleek and clean, with a black-painted drop ceiling and sparkling walls in gold and gray. Appetizing smells of ginger and garlic fill the air.
The menu’s mix of Japanese and Chinese dishes is less cluttered than what you find at a typical Asian restaurant in town. Aside from a few rice-based dishes such as Mongolian beef and kung pao chicken, most offerings are centered on noodles. Everything has a number next to it for easy ordering.
Appetizers are mostly familiar. An order of scallion pancakes ($4.99), cut into wedges for easy sharing, was nicely done, with good caramelization and flavor. An order of golf ball-sized takoyaki octopus balls ($6.29), a popular street food in Japan, was more of an adventure. They’re made by ladling spoonfuls of batter into the pockets of a special pan and turning them as they cook. The crisp outer coating yields to a doughy filling surrounding a chunk of octopus. Flavor comes from a combination of mayonnaise and a Worcestershire-type sauce and a topping of fish flakes, a customary part of this dish that I found off-putting.
The ramen bowls prove that all the hands-on preparation here makes a difference. Smooth and elastic, the noodles helped cut the sinus-loosening heat of the beef noodle soup in spicy broth ($9.99). The broth, red with chile oil, held spinach, green onion, daikon and cilantro. The slices of beef were tender but looked like worn-out shoe leather.
The outstanding noodles return in tonkotsu black ramen ($11.99), which gets its name from the sweet, earthy black garlic oil that flavors the broth. The broth itself actually has an opaque, creamy appearance that comes from blanching and rinsing pork bones and then keeping the broth at a low, rolling boil so that the fat emulsifies in it. It’s a complex dish, with slices of a black fungus mushroom called kikurage and half a hard-boiled egg marinated in soy sauce to provide texture and backbone. The meat is pork chashu, pork belly rolled into a log and braised. It was fatty and, as with the beef, served in a fairly scant portion.
Fun Noodle Bar’s menu offers a few desserts and a page full of drinks. Glasses of wine are $8-$11. You can get bottles of beer, including Japanese and Chinese varieties, for $4.99, and there are eight beers on tap.
The staff did a good job keeping things moving even as more and more people came in. The pace may have taken a toll on the kitchen, however, as the presentation of the dishes was a little sloppy.
But no complaints about the noodles. Fun Noodle Bar gets its namesake products right and throws in a pretty good show, to boot.