The Asian continent is well represented at Midtown eatery Noodle World. Japanese tempura, Korean bulgogi, Vietnamese pho and Thai noodles all make an appearance, along with lesser-known options like soft tofu stew, cold buckwheat noodles and spicy squid with vegetables.
Noodle World is tucked into a mini-mall near the intersection of East Tudor Road and Piper Street. The area is rife with fast-food restaurants, making this locally owned eatery a refreshing option. I was craving a hearty, healthy meal when I sat down in the simple but well-appointed dining room, and a quick scan of the menu let me know I had come to the right place.
I was intrigued by the dumplings ($9.99), which could be ordered boiled, steamed or fried. Also of interest were the sweet potato tempura appetizer ($6.99), hijiki (sea vegetable salad, $5) and house ramen with shrimp, scallops, squid and chicken ($11.99). I eventually decided on an order of fresh spring rolls ($6) and the beef sukiyaki ($12.99).
The spring rolls were delivered to my table in short order, along with a small selection of banchan (Korean side dishes) and steamed rice. The banchan were tasty, particularly the cold steamed broccoli with sesame oil and glazed sweet potatoes. The selection was not as extensive as it is at other Korean restaurants in town, however.
The spring rolls looked fresh and appetizing, but they left much to be desired. Consisting primarily of lettuce, they contained very little cilantro and no noodles. The shrimp was soft, translucent and nearly tasteless, and the chicken was dry and uninspiring. They were nowhere near the caliber of rolls from Anchorage-area Asian eateries Phonatik, Ray's Place or Pho Lena.
I had better luck with the sukiyaki, which contained cabbage, carrots, sprouts, onions, scallions, tofu and beef. The dish was served in a hot-pot-style metal cauldron, and the first spoonful of broth was simply magic on a cold night.
But traditional sukiyaki is cooked hot-pot style at the table. Mine came as you usually find it: already assembled from the kitchen. Breaking with tradition isn't necessarily a disappointment, as traditional sukiyaki also typically involves using a raw beaten egg as a dipping sauce for the mouthfuls of beef and veggies -- not something widely considered appetizing on this side of the Pacific.
The broth and noodles were delicious and the clear strengths of the dish, but there weren't enough of either to be found among the gristly beef, tasteless tofu and side-salad-sized amount of veggies. That's a problem that seems doubly unfortunate at a place called Noodle World.
I stopped in for a quick lunch a few days later. This time I opted for the grilled mackerel with steamed rice ($9.99). Service was swift and friendly, and 9-to-5ers should have no trouble getting in and out of the restaurant in an hour.
Two sizable mackerel fillets were served atop a charming fish-shaped platter. They appeared to have been pan fried rather than grilled, but the fish was nice and moist and I appreciated the contrast of crispy exterior and rich, fleshy interior. It's a meal I would order again, and for $10 it seemed a steal.
I'm intrigued that there could be more gems among the many menu items at Noodle World. But with the ever-increasing number of places in town offering good Asian fare, the Midtown eatery faces stiff competition and needs to up its game to be a contender.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent