Pulling noodles—the venerable Eastern art of thwacking a lump of dough onto a kitchen counter and then twirling, yo-yoing, and whipping the thing into multiple-stranded submission (and then a bowl of soup)—is a feat of magic that never fails to lift the spirits of the Underground Gourmet. This technique, a specialty of Lanzhou in northwestern China, has been popularized here over the last decade by immigrants from the southeast province of Fujian, but has pretty much been confined to the gritty soup shacks of the city’s Chinatowns.
But two months ago, this ethnic specialty materialized where you might least expect it: among the ritzy boutiques and luxury condos of Noho. The question arose among soup-noodle fanatics, the U.G. among them: If you take the noodles out of Chinatown, do you take Chinatown out of the noodles? Happily, in the case of the winningly low-key Hung Ry, the answer is a resounding No. Despite suspicious amenities like comparatively palatial surroundings, uniformly warm and gracious service, and a well-priced, appealingly offbeat wine list, Hung Ry is serving righteous Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles that are as good as any within slinging distance of Confucius Plaza—maybe even better.
This is due, in no small part, to the owners’ savvy hiring practices. To staff the joint, they put an ad in a Chinese newspaper “seeking master hand-pulled noodle maker.” They got two: Tho works the day shift, Chen does nights. These expert noodle wranglers ply their trade in the open kitchen, providing sustenance and entertainment in equal measure. It should be noted, though, that the standard below-Canal thwacking decibel level has been dialed way down, in keeping with the mellow vibe of the room, which is quasi-industrial but cozy, with scavenger-chic décor (church-pew seating, university-library chairs), and conspicuously ecofriendly, down to the reusable cotton hand towels and refillable bottles of filtered water.
More to the point: These might be the only hand-pulled noodles in New York, and maybe anywhere, made from organic flour, and the meats that populate the soups come from top-notch local purveyors. They’re a lot pricier than anything you’d find on Eldridge Street, of course, but still a bargain—the broths are uniformly rich and deeply flavored, the portions more than generous, and in their inclusion of off-cuts, the soups stay true in spirit to the peasant food that inspired them.
Take, for instance, Hung Ry’s braised veal-cheek soup with pan-seared slices of calf’s liver, dime-sized disks of marrow, and thin, almost crunchy slivers of Japanese sweet potato—it’s as daringly nose-to-tail as any Chinatown concoction, but looks downright refined in its Limoges bowl. Ditto the robust beef brisket, tripe, and beef-cheek variety. Both of these soups are terrific, but slightly overshadowed by the sumptuous duck soup, which combines slices of rosy pink breast fanned out across the surface, with morsels of duck leg in a warmly spiced, russet broth that’s sweetened with roasted red pepper and garnished with jalapeño. A seafood option combines lobster and sea trout with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms; a vegetarian version deposits what seems to be an entire week’s CSA share into a sweet squash broth. And merely inhaling the soothing fragrance of the “black feather chicken” soup, fortified with a soft-cooked egg and winter greens, could cure a bad cold.
Hung Ry’s artfully plated appetizers are courtesy of chef Michael Hodgkins, a veteran of Cru. (Hodgkins also executes the various broths and their extra-noodle contents, not to mention his own table sauces.) The only problem with the tender, batter-fried squid, garnished with guajillo-chile paste and pumpkin seeds, is that you’re tempted to keep ordering it, at the expense of the excellent monkfish liver, with its rich, foie gras–like texture and faint hint of the sea, or tender morsels of lamb with crispy cauliflower in fermented-black-bean jus, or cubes of short rib lathered with daikon foam. Even a winter-vegetable plate distinguishes itself, the beets dotted with toasted pumpkin seeds, soft carrots sprinkled with julienned apple, and pickled radishes zapped with spicy mustard.
All you need to know about dessert is the (secretly dairy-free) chocolate ice cream, enriched with coconut milk. It’s not, as far as we know, indigenous to Lanzhou, or Fujian, or even Noho, for that matter. But, like Hung Ry itself, we’re happy to have discovered it.