Nice Chinese Noodle House

(Nha Hang Trieu Hung)
1038 Race Street
(215) 625-8393

It's all glass exterior makes this shebang look as if it were the Chinese version of the Edward Hopper Night-Lit-Diner scene. Frankly, in the evening, the flourescently lighted interior is a glow-worm of a black lacquer-chaired luncheonette. The walls are aqua, as are table tops and random tiles on the floor. A few wide paintings of Chinese connotation cover space, as do Buddhist offerings and vases with plastic red carnations. Here in Chinatown, it's a mish-mosh; in mainland China this eatery would be called a veritable venerable banquet house.

"Susannah Foo's" patrons may be most fortunate cookies, but "Nice's" clientele are those who revel in noodles, nodding heads and chopsticks in opposite vertical directions, in and out of soup bowls the size of buckets. Moreover, a table of four can eat a wonton ton, and spend no more than twenty-five dollars total. If you spend more, my guess is that your stomach will be up the Yangtzee without a paddle, gorged.

The first few times you come here for lunch, dinner or take-out, simply listen to and watch what the Chinese customers are ordering. Ninety-eight percent of the diners are Asians, speaking various Oriental dialects, all seemingly understandable to the waitstaff. Realize that when you order a dish for yourself, you are truly ordering for three.

Kindly begin with appetizers, "Khai Vi," whose tastes are as authentic as street food in Xian and Canton. House Special Shrimp Roll (Cha Gio Trien Chau) ($4.95) are six ample packets of pressed shrimp. Each parcel tastes like a dazzling culinary combination of challah french toast, shrimp croquette and a New Orleans beignet.

"Eat with sauce" demands my plain clothed waiter; "No good without sauce."

I comply, wetting the purse of food, soaking its insides to a spongy froth before enveloping it with my lips. One can't help but dribble. Your tongue swims in a sultry sea of solid shrimp.

You may desire to calm the waves of aftertastes with an order of Chinese Twist Crullers (Dan Cha Quay) ($1.00), four juicy, chewy, sticky breadsticks that could pass for Boardwalk corndogs, without the dogs. Their sweet effect lulls one's tongue to stillness.

And a Stir-Fried Chinese Bun (Ban He Chien) ($4.50) is a must. These are four pancakes of bouncy doe, liplike in texture, filled with chard greens and chives. The sensation one feels is that of a messy kiss from someone who's just eaten ripe Vidallia onions and couldn't care less. The morsel having been fried, the smoocher's appointment is also an annointment.

"Don't forget sauce," says my waitress, as she delivers three plump Chao Hou Vietnamese Egg Rolls ($4.50), each a dark cigar filled with shredded vegetable delicacies imbued with smoky pork pieces. Your throat gurgles as the crunchy roll dissolves. It reaches the back recesses of your jaw; gone before a meaningful bite can occur.

There's a reason why your table is replete with forty chopsticks, hundreds of napkins, dozens of miniature white ladles, sliced hot cherry peppers, salt and pepper shakers, a soy bin and what might be a Shanghaied ketchup bottle. All of these accoutrements, but for the napkins, invariably find their way into Nice's noodle soups. The napkins (you'll use three dozen) are to wipe your brow, your nose, your mouth, your hands, your chin, your shirt or blouse, your pants or dress, your eyes: usually in that order, over and over.

Allow me to name, some of the more exotic selections among the fifty Noodle Soups on the menu: Satay Pig Feet Lai Fun, Ying Yang Noodle Fu-Kien Style, Thousand Year Egg with Shredded Pork. Of course, you may opt for less eclectic fare, and you will be delighted.

Shredded Chicken Rice Noodle Soup ($4.75) is loaded with white chicken breast strands; redolent of scallions, ginger and woodsy mushrooms, cushioned in rice. The broth is golden, defatted and steaming. Beef Brisket Hong Kong Style with Egg Noodle Soup ($4.75) is chunky with grainy slices of beef drowning in half a pound of meandering yellow noodles. Ginger and preserved turnips, green onions and Sichuan peppercorns add zest. Special Shrimp Wonton Soup ($3.95) contains comets of Chinese raviolis with tails that splash and dangle until you sip, slurp and devour the slippery elongated densely filled wontons fully and finally.

You may not demur to the House Special Congee ($4.25), a cement-mixer sized porridge portion with floating pearly fish fillets of the sweetest, silkiest suppleness. I've seen residents of Beijing eating congee for breakfast, before bicycling to work. It sticks to the ribs and makes your belly visibly beat to the rhythm of your heart. Nice's congee is extraordinary.

Finally, if you desire a dish that will burn your socks off, try the Squid with Satay Sauce over Rice ($4.95) and add the sliced hot cherry peppers. The squid is braided (I don't know how), and delivered in a brown sauce that seems docile and of innocuous desuetude. Once you place a plait of rich rubbery squid into your mouth followed by a sliver of green pepper, start the countdown from "ten." When you reach "nine," your chopsticks will fall to the floor. At "eight" napkins are flying about the room and your trying to suckle the ketchup bottle's nozzle. At "seven" you've swallowed out of helpless hopelessness and begin pounding another set of chopsticks on the floor (where you suddenly find yourself) as if you were Gene Krupa. By "six" you are wondering if you have a starring role in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." From "five" to "two" you're screaming Confucian proverbs in Yiddish as if you were simultaneously climbing the Great Wall of China and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.... At "one" you're hungry for more.

Bring cash. The menu has handwriting honestly stating, "Price slightly different in some items."


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back