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Asian In-fusion

East meets West

 Smack!

What was that sound? A waiter losing a tray? A table collapsing? Undomestic violence? I look around the restaurant to see what's up.

Smack! There it is again.

Stringing them along: Chef Titshek Wang's hand-pulled Chinese noodles are thick, uneven and absolutely fabulous.
Troy Fields
Stringing them along: Chef Titshek Wang's hand-pulled Chinese noodles are thick, uneven and absolutely fabulous.

Location Info

Map

Rickshaw

2810 Westheimer Road
Houston, TX 77098-1207

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby

Details

Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (713)942-7272

Chicken Pepe: $8
Miso bass: $16
Sui mai dumplings: $5
French wontons: $5
Martini du mer: $7
Spring rolls: $6
Chinese Eiffel: $10
Mushu pork: $10
Texas Gyu-Don (lunch only): $8
Ja Jaing Mein: $7

2810 Westheimer

"Look, it's the chef!" says my dining companion. An Asian chef in a white jacket is whirling dough around like he's going to throw a pizza. We get up from our table and walk over to watch.

Smack! He whacks the dough against the countertop in front of him. Then he starts to spread flour on it. Getting all the air bubbles out? Now he begins to stretch it out between both hands like he's pulling taffy. Suddenly he doubles it, and pulls it and doubles it again, spreading flour on the strands to keep them from sticking to each other. By pulling and doubling, whirling and twisting, over and over, the chef is transforming this "pizza dough" into a bunch of noodles, and each doubling makes them a little thinner. Finally he loops one end over a stick to check the thickness of the strands, and to pull them just a little thinner before cutting them off and throwing them in a pot of water.

I have seen a Chinese chef hand-pull noodles before, but it was on TV during a travel story about Hong Kong. Rickshaw is the only place I have ever seen hand-pulled Chinese noodles up close and personal. And after watching them being made, I can hardly wait to order some.

On my first visit to Rickshaw, I try the chicken Pepe, an Italian-style preparation of chef Titshek Wang's noodles with fresh tomatoes, chicken, garlic, spinach and mushrooms served in a bowl. The noodles are fabulous, thicker than average and slightly uneven; they remind me of the homemade noodles my grandmother used to make in a cloud of flour on her kitchen table. The Italian ingredients give the Chinese noodles a familiar Italian trattoria flavor. It's a little disorienting, but that's the whole idea at Rickshaw.

There are two trains of thought here, and they seem to be on a collision course. Chef Wang came to Houston from Hong Kong a few years ago, and he makes fresh-from-the-Orient noodles, dumplings and traditional Chinese dishes. (Be forewarned, Wang uses MSG in his cooking.) Chef Mike Potowski, who is half Japanese and half Lithuanian, grew up in Japan and has worked as a sushi chef at Miyako (whose partners, incidentally, also own Rickshaw). He is responsible for the Asian fusion part of the menu.

The signs outside say "Noodles" and "Dumplings," and the menu says "Rickshaw, Gourmet Oriental Noodles." But the menu features French, Italian and Latin twists. So is this a noodle house or a fusion restaurant? "It's both," executive sous chef Lance Warren tells me on the phone. "We advertise noodles and dumplings, and we put lots of traditional Chinese items on the menu because we don't want to scare people away. But we hope that as people get more comfortable they will try more of our fusion dishes. We have to take it slow. Fusion is old hat in California, but it's new to Houston."

The fusion items at Rickshaw go to some wild extremes, and the menu is peppered with multilingual jokes. Korean shredded beef on a baguette smothered with onions and peppers is called a Seoul Steak Sandwich, spicy chicken is Kung Pow, and squid with Chinese five-spice powder is Cinq Spice Calamari.

In keeping with the fusion theme, the spacious, airy interior at Rickshaw is decorated with a blend of modern fixtures and Oriental bric-a-brac. Square red-lit panels in the ceiling give the overhead grid a Mandarin Mondrian feel. The booths along the back wall are great for intimate dinners, and the long counter overlooking the kitchen is a great spot for lunch.

The other entrée I try on my first visit looks decidedly Texan -- a large slab of protein flanked by green vegetables and mashed potatoes. It's called miso bass, and it consists of Chilean sea bass marinated in miso and served with wasabi-flavored mashed potatoes and Chinese broccoli. The wasabi-spiked spuds are a hit, but the miso-marinated fish is a little too gelatinous, or as my tablemate so succinctly describes it, "icky." Chilean sea bass is a large fatty South American fish that is properly called Patagonian toothfish. It usually has a nice large-flaked white flesh, but sometimes develops a mushy texture if it isn't kept perfectly.

Before the noodles and sea bass, we tried chef Wang's sui mai, open-faced dumplings wrapped in green dough with big chunks of moist shrimp meat in the filling, and "French wontons," Chinese wonton wrappers stuffed with Brie and then deep-fried. If you've ever had baked Brie at a cocktail party, you know the flavor. But the crunchy, gooey cheese packets unfortunately are served with what tastes like bottled spaghetti sauce. "Wouldn't these be great with an orange-ginger sauce?" grins my tablemate, a strawberry blond from St. Louis. A chef she once dated introduced her to that popular cooking-school sport, Second Guessing the Kitchen. But now that she mentions it, an orange-ginger marmalade would go great with these cheese puffs.

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