Thursday, March 22, 2012

Overview: Noodles and Company

All photos by Chris Blauwkamp
Recently I met with Tessa Stamper, who has been the executive chef for Noodles and Company for the last four years. Her background as a dietitian impels her to provide healthy options for Noodles' customers. All of their sauces are vegetarian, and they provide a guide for making dishes that are less than 500 calories. There is currently one location in DC, in Woodley Park, with two more planned for the coming year, in Georgetown and downtown. The company plans to have about thirty restaurants in the area by the end of the year. I was fortunate to get a chance to sample some of their wonderful dishes.

Apple Spinach Salad
In addition to noodle dishes, Noodles and Company offers several salads and sandwiches. We started off with an Apple Spinach Salad. The salad had pecans, onion, house-made croutons, apples, blue cheese, and bacon, and was covered in a sweet balsamic vinaigrette. The onion gave it a sharp bite that contrasted well with the creaminess of the blue cheese. The bacon was a bit chewy, but the saltiness was a welcome addition.

Truffled Mac and Cheese
The next two dishes were a sampling of their 'American' menu. The Truffled Mac and Cheese was my favorite dish of the night. It was a really good mix of flavors. There wasn't too much truffle oil, and the mushrooms added a lot, really deepening the flavor. The dish had a scattering of bread crumbs, which gave it a bit more texture and contrasted with the pasta nicely. It wasn't too buttery or oily at all; the Parmesan cheese on top gave it a saltiness that cut any excess creaminess away. 

The other American dish was the Mac and Cheese, a blend of cheddar and jack cheeses and cream. As was the case with all of the dishes, the noodles were fairly well cooked. More well done than al dente, they still weren't mushy. The Mac and Cheese was creamier than the truffled variety, and very buttery. It had the right amount of cheesiness to it, not so much it overwhelmed the dish. No wonder it's their number one seller!

Japanese Pan Noodles with Tofu
The two Asian dishes sampled were the Indonesian Peanut Sauté and the Japanese Pan Noodles with Tofu. The Peanut Sauté was my other favorite dish. It was moderately spicy with some nice peanut notes. It was balanced and nuanced, rather than hitting you over the head with peanut flavor. The noodles were very good, nice and thin. The Pan Noodles were the most savory dish we had that night, between the soy sauce, the shiitake mushrooms, and the black sesame. The bean sprouts did a good job of preventing the umami from becoming overwhelming. The sauce was slightly sweet, and the large noodles were a bit on the chewy side. Much about this dish, in fact, was large, from the thick noodles to the broad mushroom slices, to the chunks of tofu.
Penne Rosa with Parmesan Chicken
The last two dishes were Mediterranean, the Penne Rosa with Parmesan Chicken and the Pesto Cavatappi. The Penne Rosa comes in a buttery red sauce with a little bit of a kick from black pepper. The sauce was creamy and mild, and the chicken was fabulous. It had a nice Parmesan crust on it, and the chicken inside was moist, not at all dried out. It's a great comfort food type of meat. The cavatappi used to make the Pesto Cavatappi is very thick, which means it does a great job picking up the cheesy, pesto-y sauce. The sauce was good, not too oily, though I feel like it could have been stronger. I enjoyed the food here quite a bit. They're clearly shooting for the same upscale casual market as places like Merzi and Chipotle, and doing a better job with their food than either of those.

This article was written by Capital Cooking's contributor, Chris Blauwkamp.
 Noodles & Company on Urbanspoon

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