[Photos and text: Becky Ryan]
The folks at Monkey King Noodle Co. aren't in the restaurant biz to do things the easy way. That's why chef Andrew Chen ventured where few have dared to go: noodle boot camp.
In his quest to recreate the local foods that he – along with partners Michelle Midyette and Michael Wang – savored on the streets of Taipei and northern China during their travels, Chen received intensive tutoring at the hands of a noodle master from New York City.
It looks like said noodle boot camp is paying off: On the day that Dallas weather finally turned fall-ish, patrons ignored the damp chill to line up at Monkey King's to-go window. They hung out at the tables scattered on the sidewalk and on the freshly painted rooftop patio (beware the vertigo-inducing spiral staircase).
After you place your order, grab a seat and watch the show at a kitchen window where Chen "pulls" the noodles, an energetic series of rolling, kneading, slapping and stretching motions that magically transforms the wheat-and-water dough into long, uniform strands. Each batch is made-to-order while you wait, usually less than 10 minutes. After a quick hot-water bath, the noodles are covered in a savory pork broth with your choice of chicken or beef. The noodles definitely steal the show in this soup, acting as a springy, chewy pillow for sopping up broth and conveying chunks of meat to your mouth.
Soup dumplings are the other main feature: The same simple wheat dough that's used for the noodles is hand-rolled into purse-like pockets that hold a gently spiced pork mix and – watch your shirt front, people – a spoonful of hot pork broth. Both the soups and the dumplings are safe for the spice-challenged, but if you're ready to clear your sinuses you should order the pork wontons with chili sauce, a feisty contrast to the milder noodles.
Partner Michelle Midyette got her first taste of soup dumplings on a business trip to Taipei a couple of years ago, and it was so good she excitedly emailed Chen, with whom she'd already begun sketching out plans for Monkey King. Together they're determined to serve the "best Chinese comfort food in town." Their ultimate vision is to serve fresh noodles and dumplings to Deep Ellum denizens looking to soak up their late-night revelry, just like the street vendors of China.
Right now you can get your noodle fix from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but the plan is to open for dinner and late-night hours. Chen and company will continue tweaking the menu until Monkey King's official opening, which they promise will be "soon." For menu and opening updates, follow Monkey King via their Facebook page.