View more photos in Anne Fishbein's “Heavy Noodling” photo gallery.
Have you encountered Shanxi knife-cut noodles? Because if you haven’t, you should really give them a try — thick, irregular things, frilled on one edge like the gills of an oyster, and about the size and heft of a businessman’s belt.
These noodles, shaved from a log of dough directly into boiling water, were the specialty of the late Dow Shaw, a dismal cafe hidden behind a Rosemead appliance showroom, that was a star in the early years of the Chinese San Gabriel Valley. At a time when most of the restaurants were recognizably from either Hong Kong, Shanghai or Taiwan, Dow Shaw was a true exotic, a glimpse into the great swathes of China that existed beyond the guidebooks, a taste of leek turnovers and fried dumplings stuffed with beef and wild cumin, spicy beef soup and what I imagined to be the original version of the moo shu pork that had become a staple of American Chinese restaurants. Even if you couldn’t place Shanxi on a map — it is tucked on a plateau somewhere between Beijing and Mongolia — you could taste what its inhabitants had for dinner.
After a few years, the restaurant moved west to Monterey Park, renamed itself Heavy Noodling after the headline an editor had put on the 1991 review I wrote for the L.A. Times, and continued hand-shaving noodles by the yard and by the ton until the owners retired a couple of years ago, leaving the neighborhood bereft of dao xiao mian. You could find lesser examples at the Taiwanese dive Mama’s or as one of the few savory dishes at a Hong Kong–based dessert café alternately known as Benser, Tasty and Hui Lau Shan, but they were never the same.
But a report of decent knife-cut noodles at the newish Rosemead restaurant JTYH, spotted by the blogger Sinosoul, popped up a few months ago. He also praised the braised intestines. And as discovered pretty much simultaneously by everyone in L.A.’s online food community, JTYH not only resembled Heavy Noodling, it was Heavy Noodling, slightly fancier, but with the full menu of steamed dumplings with leeks and fried dumplings with seafood, green-onion pancakes and Jing Dong meat pies prepared by the family that had run Heavy Noodling for so may years.
If you’ve been to a local Sichuan or Yunnan restaurant, you’ve had most of the appetizers here, cold pig’s ears and salted cucumbers, shredded–bean curd salad and smoked chicken legs plucked from a glass case on one wall of JTYH. A list of stir-fries on the last page of the menu includes a version of the lamb ribs you sometimes find in local Sichuan restaurants too, crusted with chile paste and fried crisp with a giant pile of firecracker-red dried chiles.
Almost every table sports an order of what the restaurant calls Pan Cake w/ Beef, a Shandong-style roll-up that may be familiar from Alhambra’s Noodle 101 Express: flaky, lardy Chinese pancakes wrapped around anise-scented braised beef, fresh herbs and a bit of sweet bean paste, like a pair of giant Chinese burritos sliced into thirds. The waitresses will try to push you into ordering the pan-fried bao, and they’re not wrong. The steamy buns, ringed by a crunchy, translucent fringe of fried batter, become fragrant and crisp-bottomed in the pan, also hot enough to sear craters into the roof of your mouth if you don’t wait for them to cool a bit — pork, beef with caraway, they’re all good. The calzone-size leek turnover is, too.
But you’re here for the knife-cut noodles, slithery and plump in lamb broth, or chewier pan-fried with seafood, tossed with bean paste and cucumber in an approximation of chachiang mian or served under a thin omelet sizzled with tree-ear mushrooms, dried lily buds and pork: a sweetly garlicky version of moo shu. You can also get the moo shu fried with cat’s-ears noodles, thimbles of dough that look like a Chinese take on Puglian orecchiette — blame it on Marco Polo.
The noodles are slippery and dense, but rough-textured enough to pick up flavor from spicy beef soup or a splash of vinegar; nicely chewy but heavy enough to be used as sesame-smeared bondage implements should the need arise. Their rusticity might make a Modenese grandmother reach for her rolling pin, but they are as delicious as they are formidable, so good that you may catch yourself nibbling them unsauced if you take an order to go.
JTYH Restaurant: 9425 Valley Blvd., Rosemead. (626) 442-8999. Wed.-Mon., 11 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. MC, V, D. Beer. Lot parking. Cold appetizers $2.50-$3.50; noodles $4.75-$6.25; dumplings $4.95-$6.95. Recommended dishes: bean curd sheet; lamb noodle soup; moo shu fried noodles; pan-fried pork buns.