The chork rules at Newton’s Noodles


Green walls and blond wood give the downtown Newton’s Noodles a California vibe that’s dispelled by a thumping soundtrack. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
October 29, 2013

The most interesting detail to spring from Newton’s Noodles in downtown Washington, the fast-casual spinoff from the owner of the eclectic Newton’s Table in Bethesda, is its signature Chork.

Long and slender, the plastic utensil combines chopsticks and a fork. It is used to distinguish the pan-Asian feeder from its competition. “Home of the Chork,” reads the slogan on the black T-shirts of the staff members animating the assembly line and kitchen brought to life by chef Dennis Friedman.

Surely you know the drill. Scan the short menu above your head while you’re in line; tell the smiling server behind the counter what dish (and what amount) you want freshly prepared from the display of vegetables, meats and other toppings; pay at the end of the line, then wait for the pager you’re given to light up, announcing that lunch or dinner is ready.

Your Chork is best applied to Fuzu, a made-up name for a toss of rice noodles, carrots, scallops, shrimp, fried shallots and more that’s one of the most popular plates at Newton’s Table. Newton’s Noodles offers Fuzu two ways: original soy (“salty and sweet with a touch of heat,” goes the mantra) and “coco-curry,” with peanuts, cilantro and a creamier sauce. My preference is for the tried-and-true original, served, as are all dishes here, in Chinese takeout cartons. The original recipe, zesty with ginger and garlic, resembles a showy pad Thai; the new dish turns sodden fast.

Appetizers, or “apps,” as the menu bills them, are served in three portions: starter, entree and family size. A few of the wan tuna bites, offered with a muted mustard vinaigrette, and the cornstarch-dusted chicken nuggets, crisp but dull, proved plenty for me. Chilled soba noodles tossed with a choice of three vegetables (Yes! Asparagus!) is the lightest of the lot, although the dish’s supposedly “tangy” dressing tasted as though it had been seasoned by a pastry chef.

In its first month, too much of this food tastes like Asian carryout — from last night.

Pale green walls and blond wood dividers lend a pleasing California air to the 70-seat interior; the thumping background music, on the other hand, encourages customers to speed up the movement of their Chorks and beat it.

Friedman is dreaming large. The entrepreneur’s expansion plans include outlets in Maryland and Virginia, possibly even New York. Here’s one customer who hopes he uses his noodle, slows down and smooths out the wrinkles before multiplying.

tom.sietsema@washpost.com

1129 20th St. NW. 202-827-3907. www.newtonsnoodles.com. Build-your-own Fuzu, $8 to $12.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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