One on one: Nora’s Table eats at Noodle Cafe

When it comes to dining out, the Oregon coast can be a giant wasteland of frozen clam strips. So when Stu and Kathy spent last Sunday and Monday in Newport, they didn’t have high hopes for a great meal.

They had, instead, a strategy. They thought, let’s take the #1-rated Hood River TripAdvisor restaurant to the #1-rated Newport TripAdvisor restaurant. See if the mojo holds.

Numero Uno in Newport is Noodle Café, down on the “historic bay front” where old bars and souvenir shops vie for space with vacant buildings.  The Original Mo’s, and several Mo’s annexes are here, but we weren’t tempted.  We made for the bright yellow café, with the expected windows on the water.

Lisa and Han, brother and sister originally from Taiwan, arrived in Newport via Atlanta, Georgia about 18 months ago, where their family has another restaurant. They took over an existing Chinese restaurant space, and cleared out the bric-a-brac to create a simple, clean dining room with wooden benches covered with slim throw pillows for sitting. Which is good, because you will want to sit there for a long time.

Noodle Café shares several traits with Nora’s Table. They make almost everything from scratch: their noodles, rice flour wrappers, dumplings and pancakes. And the menu is eclectic (like ours), offering dishes from China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea, and some of their own Asian noodle fusion.  We have wished for the longest time to eat a REAL potsticker dumpling that didn’t come out of a Costco bag. Here, hand-made egg noodle sheets are wrapped around perfectly spiced ground pork or vegetables, and then fried until the edges are crispy and golden brown.  A bowl of Jung Bong arrives, with hand-made noodles in a shimmery spicy-red fish stock with shrimp, squid and scallops, loaded with crisp asparagus, scallions, and baby boc choy.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Because it was a slow night (Monday in March, sleet bouncing off the sand on our beach walk) and because Lisa was working the front of the house, we got to introduce ourselves, #1 to #1, and Lisa decided to convince us they deserve the title. She disappeared into the kitchen. When we ordered the tempura oysters (6 for $8) she brought us out her own special dipping sauce with chilies, cilantro, ginger and garlic. While we waited for noodles, she brought us two of her deep-fried but delicate buns: if a New Orleans beignet married a Chinese steamed bun and had a baby, this would be it. She brought out a plate of her hand-made kimchi. We are now grinning like a couple of idiots. It would be hard to find a noodle shop this good in Portland. And we are in Newport.

As the evening wound down, we shared stories with Lisa about this funny restaurant business. Our favorite from Lisa: a woman guest sits at an outside table in a stiff breeze, and holds her noodles eight inches up in the wind on a chopstick, and asks, “Excuse me, these noodles  aren’t very hot.”

Yeah, that may be true, but those are the best noodles you’re ever gonna have, so slurp them up.

Gifts from our kitchen

Nathan and Andrew can say, “The bosses went to Newport, and all we got was Brutal IPA and Chipotle Ale from Rogue Brewery.” But they’re too busy drinking the beer to say it.  That, and planning your week’s chow.

So here’s what we’ve got:

Nathan has been loving this Swiss chard this winter, and it’s been loving him back. On Tuesday, he created a simple warm salad of julienned  pan-sautéed chard with organic Pink Lady apples, toasted pecans and ricotta salata. We loved it so much, it’ll be on all this week.

With our 12 ounce rib eye, we’ve got a luscious risotto with one of our favorite grains, farro. This old-world  Italian grain tastes a bit like barley, without the gummy factor. Nathan’s preparing it with red wine, chicken stock, mushrooms, butter and Grana cheese, and topping the steak with a parsley and caper salad.

Andrew is busy brining a nice bone-in pork loin from Mountain Shadow. We’re serving it with mole Amarillo and peruano beans.

We’ve got both fresh Washington steelhead and razor clams on the menu. In fact, in one dish, they’re joining forces: a filet of steelhead, pan seared, with a fried razor clam, both nestled on polenta and Swiss chard with a Spanish sauté of sweet red peppers called peperade.

When plastic is better than paper

We’ve been limping along with old technology for a while now: ask for a gift certificate, and you get a flimsy paper one with an envelope. Not entirely elegant. So we are introducing the – tada! – oh so suave Nora’s Table Gift Card. Load them up with any amount of money, and keep them in your desk to give away to new clients, or to help friends celebrate a birthday or anniversary, or use one yourself.  They can also be re-loaded at will, so you’ve always got a little Nora’s Table mad money in your pocket.

Each card comes with a classy card and envelope for giving. And you were wondering what you’d give this year for St. Patrick’s Day.


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