Dining Review: The Crazy Noodle serves up Korean family cooking in Midtown Memphis

Mandou-guk dumpling soup is among noodle-based dishes on the menu at The Crazy Noodle on Madison in the old Umai space. The sauces and stocks are made fresh daily by cook Ji Won Choi.

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Mandou-guk dumpling soup is among noodle-based dishes on the menu at The Crazy Noodle on Madison in the old Umai space. The sauces and stocks are made fresh daily by cook Ji Won Choi.

Ji Won Choi prepares ingredients in the open kitchen at The Crazy Noodle, which is next door to Kwik Check, owned by her sister, Sue Reyna.

Ji Won Choi prepares ingredients in the open kitchen at The Crazy Noodle, which is next door to Kwik Check, owned by her sister, Sue Reyna.

No doubt about it: Noodles are beloved by many and in many dishes, from lasagna to kugel, from ramen to mac and cheese.

The Crazy Noodle, which opened in January, is about Korean noodles. There are a few other items available, but the smallish menu is devoted mostly to noodle dishes.

Asian noodles aren't new to town. We've been eating pad Thai, bowls of pho and even lo mein for years. And we have other Korean restaurants, too. But The Crazy Noodle is welcome for several

reasons.

First, it's in the former Umai space on Madison, and it's nice to see businesses opening around Overton Square.

Second, cook Ji Won Choi is the sister of Sue Reyna, the owner of Kwik-Chek next door. Reyna has been providing excellent sandwiches and Korean bibimbap to Midtowners for years and has a loyal following —

so who wouldn't want her family recipes prepared next door?

And the prices are fair, which is always a draw.

Choi uses prepared noodles, but she makes the stocks and sauces fresh daily. Dishes are made to order, and wait times at The Crazy Noodle are longer than you might expect for what seems like (but is more than) a bowl of soup.

On our first visit, two diners left as we waited. They explained they'd been sitting for 45 minutes and just didn't have time to wait longer. We'd been there close to half an hour, so we called over our server and explained that the other table said they'd waited 45 minutes.

"Is that a problem?" she asked.

We said it was, that we were on a lunch break. She checked with the kitchen and came back with the news that she made sure our meal would be expedited, and that it would be ready within 15 minutes.

Sigh.

Note that the restaurant had only been open about six weeks at the time, and that service has improved; more to come on that.

The food was good, and our favorite dish that day was the curry noodle.

It only makes sense that there is a Korean curry, though I'd never thought about it. The colonial British were nothing if not willing to spread flavors around the world. They introduced curry to Japan, which in turn took it to Korea during its occupation in the early 20th century.

Curry is many things -- far too many to begin to address here — but the curry at The Crazy Noodle brings no surprises. It's a standard yellow curry full of spices you'd expect in a decent store-bought blend: cumin, cinnamon, peppers, garlic, ginger and the turmeric that lends the color.

The creamy, fragrant sauce, tossed with chicken and vegetables and served with a plate of noodles, just makes you feel good. The spices are balanced, and it's very mild.

None of the dishes — even when stated on the menu or when we specifically asked — were very spicy.

Still, they were mostly tasty. The exception was the yuk-gae-jang, noodles in a "spicy" beef broth, which was oddly lacking in much flavor at all. A diner at another table ordered beef noodle soup, and I heard her ask for soy sauce as we were leaving. I think the broth was just weak that day.

A delicious dish was dok-bog-g, a plate of chewy rice cakes, slices of pressed fish, vegetables and a few bits of squid.

Think of the rice cakes as very dense noodles about 2 inches long and about a half-inch across. They're tossed in a thick, extremely flavorful red sauce that has a fair amount of heat but is tempered by a sweetness. The squid isn't much of a player in the dish, but the slices of pressed fish add a great deal of flavor.

Tan-su-yuk is the only non-noodle entree dish on the menu. It's very similar to a Chinese sweet and sour chicken, complete with peppers and pineapple. It's OK, but it is very sweet, and there are better choices.

Bibam beef noodle is lovely, but stay away if you don't like sesame. A center mound of cold noodles is topped with hot slices of beef, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, carrots and green onions. The beef is cooked in a soy-based sauce and has the distinctive flavor of sesame oil. Sesame seeds top the dish, and you can pick pieces of what you want in each bite.

Sadly missing at The Crazy Noodle are the wonderful kimchi condiments served at other Korean restaurants in town. The flight of assorted pickles and relishes served at the beginning of the meal would be delicious with the noodle bowls and with the pancakes; I'd be willing to pay for it.

The pancakes here are small and perfect as an appetizer, though I'd prefer them a little more eggy and not quite as bready. These small cakes, called jean on the menu and listed under side items, come in several varieties, from vegetable to kimchi to individually cooked fish-jean.

We ordered a couple to start our second meal, and while they were made to order, they were delivered within 10 minutes. Service — at the table and in the kitchen, which is open and just behind the bar — was right on target at that visit. A few days later, we waited close to 30 minutes for our dishes.

I didn't mind as we weren't in a hurry and I knew the food was being made to order. But if I'd needed to get back to the office quickly, I would've felt pressed.

The Crazy Noodle

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 2015 Madison.

Telephone: (901) 272-0928.

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday.

Reviewer's choices: Dok-bog-g ($8.99); Bibam noodle, beef ($8.99); Curry noodle ($8.99); Fish-jean ($4.99)

Alcohol: Beer; corkage fee for wine is $3.50 per person.

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