When most people hear that a new Chinese restaurant is opening up near a university, images of cheap, greasy take-out food come to mind. I was no exception to this rule. When I found out a couple of months ago that Fortune Noodle House was setting up shop on the corner of Calhoun and Clifton – right across the street from the University of Cincinnati and Hughes High School – I didn’t pay it much attention. For college food, I typically have the bar set fairly low.
All of those preconceived notions were tossed out of the window, however, when my wife and I saw a review on Fortune Noodle House in CityBeat. The restaurant got rave reviews from the writer, and we knew we had to give it a try ourselves. On Tuesday, August 16, we went to Fortune for the third time, and the food was as delicious and exciting as ever.
To be sure, there are some downsides to going to a restaurant in a university neighborhood: the traffic is always manic, and the hip-hop and pop tunes coming from the speakers make you well aware the restaurant is trying to target a younger clientele. Those few caveats aside, Fortune Noodle House presents a gastronomic experience that you cannot find anywhere else in the region, making it more than worth the trip to CUF.
What sets Fortune apart from other authentic Chinese restaurants in the area – such as Sichuan Bistro in Mason and Uncle Yip’s Dim Sum in Evendale – and what caught our eye when we read the CityBeat review is its emphasis on hand-pulled noodles, or la mian. Whereas other traditional Chinese eateries around Cincinnati focus on preparation or ingredients, Fortune stands out by emphasizing its unique noodles.
The method for creating la mian noodles dates back to the 16th century Song Dynasty and involves stretching and folding the dough into long strands. Each time the dough gets pulled and folded, the number of noodles increases and they become thinner.
Fortune Noodle House delivers its la mian to customers in two ways. In addition to eating these wonderfully crafted noodles, restaurant-goers can observe the la mian being prepared in the kitchen. To the side of the dining area there is a large sheet of glass allowing patrons to watch the chef as she pulls and folds the noodles, slaps them on the worktable and tosses them into boiling water. It’s dinner and a show, but more importantly it shows you what you’re eating for dinner.
Of the six entrées my wife and I have ordered so far at Fortune Noodle House, five have been hand-pulled noodle dishes. While all of the food on the menu looks excellent – and I can certainly vouch for the deliciousness of the Dry Stir Fried Kidney and Squid – the la mian are in a league of their own.
For dinner, we began with an appetizer of the Asian Sliced Beef. The thinly sliced cuts of tenderloin reminded me of high quality roast beef, and the slices were topped with sprigs of cilantro. The dipping sauce – which packed a strong punch of garlic, onion and spice – made a nice addition to the beef, although it was best in moderation so as not to overpower the taste of the meat and herbs.
Although we stuck with water for drinks on this occasion, we have tried a number of the bubble teas in the past, all of which were delicious and not too sweet. If you’ve never tried bubble tea before, I highly recommend it, especially for the delightful bursts of filling from the tapioca pearls.
As a main dish, my wife chose the pan-fried Veggie Noodle entrée, and I went with the Fried Bean and Meat Sauce Noodle. My wife – who has also ordered the pork and chicken la mian dishes in the past – enjoyed the vegetable noodles the most. The sauce was a bit lighter than on the meat dishes, and the inclusion of bok choy – one of her favorite veggies – was a huge hit.
For me, this was the second time ordering the Fried Bean and Meat Sauce Noodle, and I enjoyed it even more than the first time. The “fried bean” is tofu, which has been cut into very small pieces, and the ground beef “meat sauce” has prevalent umami flavors balanced by saltiness and spice. The noodle bowl also includes sliced bok choy and julienned cucumber, which add a satisfying earthiness and freshness to an otherwise heavy dish.
Although there are a few Sichuan dishes on the menu like Kong Boa Chicken and Mapo Tofu, the majority of the offerings are not spicy. On the other hand, since Fortune Noodle House doesn’t serve typical Chinese-American fare or Mandarin dishes, the food isn’t very sweet either. Instead, the dishes we have tried are packed with rich umami more than saltiness, sweetness or spiciness.
In both of our dishes, the noodles were definitely the star of the show. Because the la mian are pulled by hand, each one is unique – some are slightly flatter, some more rounded and some are bent and curved in different places – which only adds to the craftsmanship. Additionally, because they are freshly made, the taste of the noodles is unrivaled. They are soft yet springy, and unlike how typical noodles simply soak up sauce and spices, the la mian actually add flavor to the dish.
Including a tip, my wife and I spent $29 for our meal. The portions sizes are quite large and are more than worth the price, and we both brought leftovers home.
Despite the university setting, Fortune Noodle House offers guests a truly authentic and unique dining experience. From its handcrafted la mian to its variety of dishes and flavors, Fortune has cemented itself as a bastion of excellent cuisine in a neighborhood known for lack-luster and short-lived restaurants.
I hope you have the opportunity to make the pilgrimage to CUF to eat at Fortune Noodle House, and I guarantee you’ll love every bite!