Review: Jiang Nan's la mian noodles are fun and fresh
The Jiangnan region in south China, not too far from the Vietnamese border, is largely flanked by rivers. Water is a symbol of wealth to many. This, I'm told, is why optimistic owners named neighborhood noodle restaurant Jiang Nan after this area.
But you won't need to be wealthy to enjoy the fresh, slurp-able dishes offered at this casual Farmington Hills business. Prices are low and the value is outstanding, considering the large portions of savory, authentic Chinese cuisine.
We're all here for the la mian. The long, hand-pulled noodle is in the neighborhood of spaghetti or ramen, but slightly softer. The big takeaway from Jiang Nan is the large window into the kitchen where guests can watch the chef slice up, slam, twist and stretch various styles of la mian, from the spaghetti-like strings to flat, thin tape-like strands.
Made of simply flour and water, the rope-like la mian goes from a ball of dough to noodles on your plate in minutes.
La mian is served three ways here: plated with sauce, stir-fried or in soup. I recommend the latter, because the noodles' freshness really sparkle in the various broths offered.
You can pick your noodle shape, too. There's the standard size, or the chef will stretch it a little thinner. You can also get it thicker, flat and wide or flat and narrow, which reminds me of linguine. There's also a rice noodle available if you want the soup but not with the la mian.
The massive bowls of noodle soup come with beef, pork, shrimp, chicken, shrimp and chicken, seafood or vegetables with tofu. You can add spice to any of them for a measly 55 cents. You can also control the level of heat yourself with the chili oil or sriracha placed on each table. There's also pepper, black vinegar and soy sauce for more self-seasoning.
The Dragon La Mian soup has a lightly flavored chicken and beef broth and has both tender, moist shrimp and bite-sized pieces of white chicken swimming around with still-crunchy cilantro and white radishes. It had a mild flavor and a seemingly endless string of noodles to funnel into your mouth. There’s also a Dragon La Mian on the stir-fried dishes list with wok-fried shrimp, chicken and vegetables atop your choice of noodles.
Between the five noodle sizes and three menus for each style, there are 100 options on Jiang Nan's colorful three page, glossy menu.
I tried the flat, narrow noodles with Beijing Zha Jiang Mian, which smothers them with a fried soy bean paste that has bits of ground pork, plus slivers of healthy red cabbage, cucumbers and bean sprouts. Mix them all up with a fork or chopsticks and savor the sauced noodles with a crunch of fresh vegetables. You could slurp this combo for days, literally, as there's probably enough for three meals here.
Most of Jiang Nan's starters are shareable among two or more people. I don't want to share the pork xiao long bao, though, consisting of six small steamed buns served in a bamboo basket. The soft, doughy exterior houses a gushy treasure: a juicy pork meatball surrounded by a thin, brown sauce with hints of ginger and garlic. For even more salty flavor, dip them in the vinegar-based sauce that accompanies the buns.
The basket of flaky, pan-fried scallion pancakes is a choice appetizer for larger groups to munch on. You have to be way on board with green onions to enjoy these, and I am. Jiang Nan also has fried vegetable spring rolls and the less-often seen mango spring rolls, made of diced mango wrapped into spring roll paper, fried to a golden brown and served with a sweet, fruity sauce.
Two entrees and an appetizer could easily fly under the $30 mark. Because of the price point, the fact that there's no alcohol and the service style (quick, friendly, non-intrusive), Jiang Nan makes for a great lunch stop. The crowd is diverse: families, couples and solo guests should all be comfortable inside the neutral-toned dining room that holds around 70. Seat yourself upon arrival.
Jiang Nan, which opened last June, is one of a handful of new-ish Chinese noodle houses in town — in fact, Noodletopia in Madison Heights also has a live noodle guy and a simple, but flavorful menu — and this is an asset to the abundant offerings on Orchard Lake, which is peppered with interesting, little-known Asian and Middle Eastern independent spots among the pedestrian casual chain restaurants.
If you live or work nearby and are even a casual noodle fan, you should have already been to Jiang Nan. A serious noodle or Chinese cuisine enthusiast may drive across town to give it a try. At least it's closer than the real Jiangnan.
Jiang Nan Noodle House
29222 Orchard Lake, Farmington Hills
Rating: ★★ (very good)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.Tues.-Sun.
Prices: Appetizers and salads $1.75-$9.99; noodle entrees $10.55-$15.45; rice entrees $10.55-$13.50.
Noise level: Quiet to moderate
Accessibility: Short curb from parking lot, otherwise no barriers
Parking: Strip mall parking lot
What the stars mean
★ — routine ★★ — very good ★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — extraordinary