1320 Stony Brook Rd., Stony Brook
SERVICE: Friendly if occasionally overtaxed
AMBIENCE: Spare and clean, the open kitchen is the focal point.
ESSENTIALS: Open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. Wheelchair accessible, takeout available, all credit cards, no liquor, parking lot.
A noodle extravaganza has debuted on Long Island. In the bare-bones dining room of Splendid Noodle in Stony Brook, the open kitchen is the stage and Ken Chen is the star of the show.
Chen is a master in the Chinese art of hand-pulled noodles called lamian. Standing facing the diners, he folds, twists and stretches a salami-thick rope of dough to develop a sinewy, elastic texture. Holding his arms as far apart as he can, he bangs the dough on the counter and then repeats the process. When the dough is sufficiently supple, he uses his open fingers to divide it into ever-thinner filaments, then he tosses the finished noodles into a vat of boiling water.
Although Splendid Noodle’s owner, Joe Chi, is from China’s rice-eating south, he prefers the wheat noodles of the north, and when he opened his first restaurant, Lan Zhou Handmade Noodle in Queens, he named it after the city in Gansu province that is the epicenter of lamian. Chi, who now lives in Selden and also owns Nishiki Hibachi there, was tired of driving into Queens for a fix and so, in August, he opened Splendid Noodle. “I’m not sure how people out here will like it,” he said, “but at least I have a place for myself.”
I can’t imagine any non-celiac diner not loving these noodles, so silky and regular, it’s hard to believe they weren’t, like spaghetti, mechanically extruded through a die. I am warning you, they are so long (five feet — I measured) that sharing a bowl of them is almost impossible. The only way to eat them is to slurp until you reach the end. Move your head and your shirt gets it.
Splendid Noodle’s menu is short and sweet, comprising four starters and 17 noodle dishes, all but two of which are soups. The best dishes showcase the Chinese love of singular tastes and textures. Western palates generally esteem the mild and tender; Chinese prize the pungent, the gelatinous, the chewy and, even, the gristly. You can split the difference with the excellent roast duck or oxtail noodle soups, which contain bones but also succulent, falling-off-the-bone tender meat.
My two favorite soups both require and entail more guts. Beef tendon, cut into small chunks, is somehow crisp and gummy at the same time, with a wonderful beefy flavor. Pale and sheathed in a delicate skin, the pork intestines are a treat for offal aficionados.
I found the beef flank and lamb soups a gristle too far, the “fatty beef” neither fatty nor terribly beefy. And while seafood soup featured fresh, sweet clams, it also suffered from overdone shrimp and discordant pieces of kani (fake crab). Then, too, seafood really didn’t work with the broth, which is made from beef bones and chicken and is used for every soup. Once a bowl of noodles is doused with broth, it is finished with cilantro, scallions and greens. Extra greens or meat, or an egg, are available for a small upcharge.
Hot soup has the effect of slightly softening fresh noodles, and they are even chewier and springier in the menu’s two non-soup applications. In fact, no noodles here are more splendid than the cold ones smothered with fragrant, savory minced pork, garnished with plenty of cilantro and cucumber to cut the richness and heat. But the cold sesame noodles had to contend with a watery sauce and an inexplicable garnish of pink tomato slices.
Splendid Noodle’s four starters are all good: cucumber with chilies, pleasingly leathery slices of kelp with sesame seeds, spicy jellyfish and, best of all, “mixed beef” in a nutty, oily, stealthily spicy chili sauce. Chi told me that the beef was thin slices of shaved shank and tendon. The only person in the restaurant who knows exactly what is in the chili sauce is his chef. (A pitcher of chili sauce graces every table, and can be added profitably to any dish.)
Long Island is in the midst of an authentic, regional Chinese food boom, largely driven by the hungry Chinese students attending Stony Brook. With wide-ranging, barely translated menus, some of these restaurants can be daunting for the tenderfoot. But noodles build bridges, and Splendid Noodle offers a fine introduction to one of China’s undersung culinary treasures.