Food & Dining Oodles of noodles
The best comfort food on the planet is noodles, oodles of noodles. Noodles should be eaten 365 days a year. Asian sesame noodles are as great as Hungarian egg noodles with sweet butter, farmers cheese and poppy seeds. Dare I say: there is no such thing as a bad noodle, even Chef Boy-R-Dee spaghetti out of a can is palatable.
With a great desire for noodles, I found myself walking around the popular craft store Michaels, talking to myself about noodles. This was not a private discussion, I was actually talking quite loudly as I cruised the aisles looking for glue and beads and glittery things.
I live alone and work from home and so unless the phone rings I can go all day without saying a word to anyone except my two dogs, who are not great conversationalists. To make sure my vocal chords still work, I have become in the habit of literally talking rather loudly to myself.
However, things have changed for us solitary types. Years back if you saw someone walking alone in public having an animated discussion it was a pretty sure guess they were nuts and talking to the voices in their head. Cell phones (especially the ones with ear pieces) blew that assumption out of the water and for the most part these days when we see someone in a one way discussion it is likely they are asking their husband what he wants for dinner, or telling the kids to walk the dog.
At Michael’s, I was not on the phone, and while I may not have crossed the threshold to Crazyville, I was rather loudly debating with myself a thorny issue concerning sesame noodles. I tried to make myself feel better my thinking that truly nutty folks would be talking about the CIA spying on them, or alien abduction, but not noodles.
I adore sesame noodles but they are time consuming to make. The process begins by finely grating fresh ginger root, blending sesame oil with minced garlic and peanut butter, adding a squirt of sriracha or chile paste, some sugar, soy sauce, and rice vinegar all in the correct proportions. Then you must use the right Asian noodles and cook them in boiling water until they are al dente and not mushy. A sprinkle of chopped scallions and coriander completes this delight.
There are a hundred Asian restaurants in our area and pretty much every one serves sesame noodles. I have ordered untold quantities of this dish and after one bite wish I hadn’t. I am usually served a wad of overcooked spaghetti noodles swimming in a gloppy sauce that tastes only of peanut butter. It is more like something a kid at summer camp would cook then fine Asian cuisine.
And so my hopes were low when with my shopping bags filled with glitter and glue I entered Ren. What I got when I ordered was quite an amazement, and restored my faith that at least one place was doing this dish correctly. The “Cold Noodles with Sesame Hot Sauce” as they are listed on the menu tasted just like I make at home. With no work on my part except handing over my credit card they appear. How can you beat that?
Because the name of this restaurant is Ren Dumpling & Noodle House it was mandatory that I try some of the other offerings in these categories. This was no hardship.
I ordered fried pork dumplings, and again I was delighted. They are small dumplings, bright with seasonings and again not served in a mushy heap swimming in soy sauce. You can order all the dumplings on the menu fried or steamed and while I usually find steamed dumplings to be too bland, I liked them at Ren. On the side of the dish you will be served a spicy dipping sauce. You do not need it to flavor the food. Like ketchup dumped on french fries or burgers, the dipping sauce served here is not a mask for a lack of flavor.
I highly recommend the Steamed Crab Meat Pork Soup Dumplings. Small and well made, they are meant to be savored not gulped down.
Another unique dish that I have not seen on local menus are the Chicken Sticky Rice Dumplings. These little gems fiercely hold together around their core of minced chicken and rice. They are at once very delicate and very filling. This is a dish I would be afraid to try and make myself at home. I think my version of it would be lumpy noodle dough around lumpy rice.
The term “dumpling” covers a lot of territory. At Ren, the Steamed Roast Pork Bun is terrific. There are many varieties of streamed buns here, all good. Compared to the finger tip sized dumplings they are large, and come three to an order.
In addition to the buns, dumplings and noodle dishes I would recommend any of Ren’s noodle soups. Choose between pork, shrimp and chicken, between skinny or broad noodles and you will get something not only delicious but so hearty that it could easily make meals.
I have always found the staff at Ren’s to be extremely cheerful and helpful plus with my mouth stuffed with sesame noodles I do not talk loudly to myself.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern.