In the fiercely competitive Chinese restaurant industry of San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles, new restaurants need a hook to entice diners. Bamboodles has among the most unique, featuring a rare traditional method of preparing noodles called jook sing mein. Rather than kneading dough by hand, the chef repeatedly bounces on a bamboo stick to evenly compress the dough. This produces noodles with a very firm and chewy consistency.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” TV show highlighted this special noodle in his Hong Kong episode. He portrayed the technique as a very rare and dying artform in a surprisingly poignant segment (starts 1:20 in this clip). My curiosity was sufficiently piqued to give this place a visit.
One corner of the restaurant facing the entrance is walled-off by glass, creating a viewing area for customers to watch the noodle-making process. The chef only occasionally comes out to put on a show, but I would guess you’ll be able to see him if you’re there at prime dining hours. Or you can just watch this Youtube video.
The paper placemat gives a little background for jook sing mein.
As I typically do when trying a new Chinese restaurant, I ordered the beef noodle soup (niu rou mien / NRM). The bamboo-pressed noodles were clearly more chewy and springy than standard noodles. Unique texture, but nothing especially revolutionary. But while the noodles were an interesting novelty, they couldn’t save the dish when the other components were so lackluster. The broth lacked the hearty beefy flavor I expect in NRM and had no complexity whatsoever. In fact, it tasted diluted. Beef chunks were of mediocre quality and dry.
This will make me sound like a food snob, but I had no interest in finishing the bowl after tasting the first spoonful. I still ate the whole thing because… well, this was lunch. Quite disappointing, a subpar NRM.
Someone else in my dining group ordered the chicken noodle. I only tried a sip of the soup, which didn’t seem remarkable to me.
The calm, smooth surface of the soup…
…broken by the monstrous gang of noodles lurking below!
Bamboodles has a great hook to draw first-time diners, but how many will return? I think it’s unfair to completely dismiss a restaurant after eating just one dish. But the reality is I only return to Los Angeles a couple weeks out of the year, and when I come home, I want to eat great meals. The likelihood that I will give Bamboodles a second chance anytime soon is slim with so many familiar tasty restaurants to choose from and promising new ones to try.
535 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776