Friday, February 8, 2008

Fun Playing With Chinese Noodle Soup

Ever since I first saw the movie Tampopo, I've been in love with Asian style noodle soup. During my first year after law school, I clerked for a Federal Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of New York, at the courthouse on Foley Square in downtown Manhattan - and I practically lived in New York's Chinatown. Most often, with time and budget constraints, I wound up at the noodle shops for lunch.

Fast forward to Cleveland Ohio in 2007. New Wong's noodles on Payne Avenue lost their lease and moved to a northeast suburb, where, I am told, the owners are unhappy that most of their patrons want only egg rolls and fried rice. There are other spots in Cleveland's Asiatown where one can get noodle soup (my favorite being Superior Pho), but it is out of the way for me, and if I get to Asiatown with a companion, we almost always order shareable dishes instead.

Fast forward to February 6, 2008. I am finally to get my head (or at least my eyes) examined, which which I am years, not months, overdue. I am also this close to running late, haven't had lunch yet, and am traveling down Green Road into Beachwood in pouring rain. I am craving Chinese Food and soup, but don't know of anyplace "on the way" to satisfy this craving.

Some instinct makes me turn left from South Green Road onto Cedar, and into the small strip mall now immediately on my right. I am thinking that there is a Mexican place in here that I haven't tried, and Jack's Deli if all else fails. I park and an old, dusty memory pops into my frontal lobe - there is a Chinese take out joint here. I wonder if they have tables? I wonder if it's at least edible? Hmmm - looks a little dumpy, let's see.

I enter the Happy Buddha cafe, and yes, there a a few simple tables. Shirley, a Hong Kong expat, who passed me earlier on the sidewalk as she made a delivery within the shopping center, enters the restaurant and apologizes for the delay. I say no problem, as I am peeking at the take-out menu and eyeing the interesting decor.

Note the happy Buddhas, with their cool blue lights! The photo doesn't show how they undulate - but it does create a funky feel!

Shirley seats me and goes to bring me tea. I look at the "lunch specials" - typical suburban Americanized Chinese fare, though a good value at $6-7 a plate, and served with fried rice and egg roll. Then - bestill my heart - a menu heading of "Soup", followed by a menu heading of "Noodle Soup". "Hong Kong Style Noodle Soup?" I asked. Yes is the answer. My choice of 4 types of noodles (not made in store, but who does these days?) and protein. I order chicken and smack my lips in anticipation.

Tea Service

Tea is brewed from a bag - Oolong. Shirley says Jasmine is also an option.

But the star of our show is:

And it tastes as good as it looks - rich broth, crispy vegetables, velvety chicken and delicious noodles.

Shirley brings me a bottle of Sriracha sauce, and asks if I would like Red Vinegar. I've never heard of putting Red Vinegar in soup, but I say, "of course I'll try it."

The vinegar actually plays very nicely off of the spicy hot sauce. I'm glad I tried it.

Shrimp Chips

Shirley brought these over after she served the soup - it made a good vehicle for my first taste of the vinegar!

We talked a little, and Shirley said that even though they don't have a Chinese Menu, they will make just about anything on request, and can "authenticize" the dishes, for example, by using Chinese broccoli instead of American, on request. Her husband Gordon Liu mans the kitchen, and his menu has a nice selection, including a Chow Fun (broad rice noodle) section, a Pan Fried Noodle section, and several types of E-Fu Noodles, as well as some nice "Chef's Specials" including Beef with Black Pepper Sauce - one of my favorites! Interestingly, Gordon is from Fujian and not Hong Kong, even though there is a bit of Hong Kong in the menu (must be Shirley's influence). Chef Liu also has Japanese culinary training, so there are Japanese elements on the menu also. They have been in business here for about one year, and I, for one, intend to be back.

There is nothing so fun as playing with noodles, and Happy Buddha offers several options for doing so in a simple, yet clean and comfortable little cafe!


  1. How Funny! We almost went there today, but instead went for deli food. Next time I will run in. Thanks for the review.

  2. I just found your blog today while surfing around and it is quite informative and enjoyable. If you like Noodle soups and happen to find yourself on the west side, as I notice most of the posts on the first couple pages are all east or south side,I suggest trying Asian Grille on Clifton and around W.112th. It's a newer place but they have some quality soups with a little more of a japanese noodle bowl lean but they are very authentic