“I like this place,” my dining companion said the other night just a few minutes after we'd walked into Noodles & Company.
And that was before we'd even tasted the food.
The restaurant in a small strip center on Illinois Road just west of the intersection with Thomas Road opened in January. It's part of a chain; there are 17 Noodles & Company restaurants in Indiana alone.
The interior is bright, clean and modern. Customers order their food and pay for it at a counter, where they're given a number to sit on the table. A server delivers the food. Customers also serve themselves fountain drinks.
The restaurant features dishes from around the world, most of which have one thing in common: noodles. The menu offers Japanese pan noodles, steak stroganoff, spaghetti and meatballs, and pad Thai, among other dishes. It does offer some soups, sandwiches and salads, too. So if one person is hungry for Asian food, another wants Italian, and a third is craving a salad, everybody should find something they want at Noodles & Company.
We spent some time perusing the big menu board before placing our order. Noodles & Company's menu is a dream come true. It has a picture of each of the dishes, a description of the ingredients, the calorie count for both small and large entrees, and add-in suggestions (such as meat or chicken, with those calorie counts, too). It also indicates which dishes are spicy, but we both overlooked the small pepper symbols beside some of the dishes. Many are vegetarian, but meat, shrimp or tofu can be added in.
We both chose small sizes for our entrees. For $1 more, we each added a side of soup.
Our food was delivered promptly, and it looked so appetizing. The colorful Thai curry soup I ordered had big chunks of tomato, red onion, mushrooms, spinach and a fresh sprig of cilantro on top. Rice noodles were suspended in a yellow coconut curry broth that was the perfect combination of sweet and spicy.
My dinner companion's chicken noodle soup was equally impressive, with big pieces of chicken breast, fat wavy egg noodles, celery, carrots and onions.
At 320 calories, the Japanese pan noodles I ordered as my entrée was a decent-sized portion for one person. I was able to eat the entire dish. Thick udon noodles were caramelized in a sweet soy sauce. Also in the dish: broccoli, carrots, shitake mushrooms and black sesame seeds.
It was topped with crunchy Asian sprouts and cilantro. The vegetables were perfectly cooked tender-crisp. The sprouts on top added a nice contrast to the semi-spicy sauce.
My companion ordered Indonesian peanut sauté. Rice noodles, broccoli, carrots and cabbage were stir-fried in a spicy peanut sauce. It was topped with Asian sprouts, cilantro and crushed peanuts. It was a little too spicy for her taste. When we double-checked the menu, that's when we noticed her dish had two pepper symbols beside it, making it the spiciest dish on the menu.
For dessert, we shared a huge Rice Krispy treat that was not very good and certainly not worth the calories.
As we sat there digesting our meals, we noticed something on the menu we'd missed: appetizers. We weren't too full, so I went back and got an order of edamame and three potstickers.
We had never eaten edamame, and the employee who sold me my order helpfully explained how to eat it. For those who don't know, edamame is simply unripe, green soybeans that are steamed or boiled in their pods. To eat them, you open the pods and pop the beans into your mouth. They don't have much taste and they're good for you, loaded with protein and fiber. Just a great snack.
The real star, however, were the potstickers, or chicken dumplings, presented nicely on a plate garnished with greens, with a soy-based dipping sauce in the middle. Filled with ground vegetables and chicken, they weren't thick, but they were flavorful, especially when dipped in the sauce.
Our first visit to Noodles & Company was delightful, and we both would like to go back to try something entirely different next time — maybe the Wisconsin macaroni and cheese or Noodles & Company's signature dish: Truffle Mac, with baby portabellas, white truffle oil and Parmesan. At a whopping 1,130 calories, though, maybe we better share that one.
Every other Tuesday, Cindy Larson describes a one-time dining experience at an area restaurant. The News-Sentinel pays for meals. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel. You can reach her at 461-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read other columns, go to www.news-sentinel.com/section/LARSON.