The menu at Noodle Star features several selections of pho, along with a few Vietnamese dishes, Thai food and, on the board at least, sushi.
Don’t order the sushi.
The proprietor laughed heartily when I asked which sushi he recommended. I thought he misunderstood and tried again, and once again he laughed so heartily that I had to laugh, too.
Ha, ha! No sushi!
Well, it turns out that the guy who made sushi quit showing up, so for now, there’s a long, clean — and empty — stainless steel sushi bar. Maybe later someone will be back to roll sushi, or maybe not.
Pan-Asian restaurants have been popular for years, and they have to be thoughtfully done for the concept to make sense. Putting a sushi bar behind a Chinese buffet is puzzling, at best. But some of the best Asian food in town can be found at Shanghai and at Tao Too, neither of which is exclusively devoted to one cuisine.
Noodle Star isn’t yet at the level of either of those places — it just opened in October, and in a fairly obscure spot, too — but it holds true promise. The pho, which is a classic Vietnamese noodle soup, is very good, and many of the Thai dishes we tried were excellent.
But let’s talk chicken wings first. A good rule: When you order one thing and the server tells you to order the chicken wings, just do it. I resisted at first, and sampled several fine appetizers on my first visit. On the second visit, the chicken wings were once again suggested, and I bit.
Listen: I would go to Noodle Star just for the wings, which are served in a generous order of drummies, flats (the meatier, mid-joint piece), and wing tips. These are coated with salt and plenty of black pepper, fried, tossed with sautéed onion, jalapeño and slivers of ginger, and served piping hot. They are a delight, even for someone who only marginally appreciates a good chicken wing. They were so delicious that I thought I should try them again before raving, so I made a third visit for a to-go order. The corners of the foam box were snipped to allow steam to escape and keep the skin crisp. It was a thoughtful touch, and it did the trick.
There was almost no quibble with the food, though the pho could be improved with more herbs than basil. The broth was clear as a fine consommé, bursting with flavor. Shrimp were plump and sweet, beef sliced paper-thin and tender.
The anatomy of a bowl of pho is simple: Rice noodles in the bottom of the bowl, broth poured on top, over your choice of meats that include chicken, shrimp, beef flank and beef parts such as tripe and tendon. A plate of crunchy bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño peppers, herbs and lime comes on the side; you add as you go along. A variety of herbs, such as cilantro and mint with the basil, would be appreciated.
Thai spring rolls were simple, but served with an exceptional peanut sauce. Fresh batons of cucumber and carrot lent a nice crunch to the rolls, also filled with rice noodles and shredded lettuce and rolled in thin rice wrappers. The sauce was thick, glistening with beads of chili oil and rich with garlic and ginger.
Pad Thai was simple — wide noodles tossed with chicken (our choice), bean sprouts and peanuts, flavored with fish sauce. The sole miss with the list of hits was the chicken larb, a mix of ground meat and herbs, which was excessively salty and a too wet.
An unusual dish, and at the top of the hits list, was Thai Dynamite. Lightly breaded pieces of beef were fried and simmered in a sweet and spicy sauce reminiscent of Chinese sweet and sour. Broccoli, onion and big bites of pineapple provide plenty of texture to the dish.
Green curry was very good — fiery but calmed in the coconut cream. Zucchini made a nice stand-in for Thai eggplant, and green peas added pops of crunch.
At Noodle Star, heat is rated on a 1 to 5 scale. I like food spicy, but ordered at a 3 level and was prepared to adjust. I didn’t need to, though. With complex flavors, too much heat can hide the nuances. Ordering in the middle provided enough heat to keep it interesting, but let all the flavors come through.
There’s not much ambience in the restaurant, which was formerly Jimmy’s Chicago Hot Dogs. And while it’s on Stage Road, it’s also easy to miss. Look for the old strip center behind Sheridan’s Frozen Custard. You’ll find Noodle Star by the drum shop, next to the martial arts center.
Food: 2 Stars
Service: 2 Stars
Atmosphere: 1 1/2 Stars
Address: 6773 Stage Road
Telephone: (901) 266-0033
Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. daily
Reviewer’s Choice: Thai spring rolls ($5.25); chicken wings ($7); Thai Dynamite ($8.50); green curry ($8.50)