Check Please, July 2002
By Clair Chauvin
When I got back from our visit to London, I was all, "Waa-waa, I want my Wagamama." So I tried my best to recreate some of the things I ate at Wagamama using stuff I bought at local Asian markets, but it just wasn't the same. I'd even purchased the Wagamama cookbook while I was in London as a guide. Now if only Houston, the fourth largest city in the US, had a good noodle restaurant that was both stylish and affordable. My call was answered. I have a brand spanking new restaurant to review and it's called Jenni's Noodle House.
I spotted a flyer for Jenni's and I immediately wanted to like the place. In addition to the fact that it seemed to address a hole that needed to be filled in the Houston eatery market, something about the language on their menu and their website said to me, "Like me. Please like me." Maybe the language seemed a tad desperate because, let's face it, Houston is none to easy on new restauranteurs. So I'm doing my part to make Jenni's a success. Eat there. Eat there today.
Jenni's is in the downtown "Chinatown" district, close to where 45 and 59 intersect. It seems like a good location for them because of its proximity to downtown and University of Houston. The strip-mall building that Jenni's is in used to be a Vietnamese restaurant where Pat says he remembers seeing old Vietnamese men playing cards there at all hours. Jenni's still has the acoustic tile ceiling and linoleum tile floor that the old place had, but they've make attempts at jazzing the place up with red painted walls, giant branches of "lucky bamboo" and beautiful Chinese parasols hung upside down and covering the lights on the ceiling like huge lampshades. The clusters of chairs and tables are a little to out in the open for me and I find myself longing for a cushy, private boot to hide in. I realize booths must be expensive to have custom-made, so I'll let it slide. They always play great music.
Jenni Tran-Weaver owns the place and she co-runs it with her husband, Scott. They're young, energetic and friendly and I seriously doubt you could eat there without talking to either of both of them. All of the recipes Jenni uses are Vietnamese and have this pared down quality to them that I like. I've heard people complain that their food didn't have enough "oompfh" to it. I noticed that the food at Jenni's is more on the healthy side than other Vietnamese places that occasionally get to greasy. Maybe that's the flavor "oompfh" they're talking about- who knew it was fat?
The menu is split up into three groups: the $3 appetizer range, the $5 lunch/dinner range, and the $7 lunch/dinner range. Pat and I are absolutely in love with their curry dish. The make two different versions the vegetarian "Art Car Curry" and the "Infernal Curry" with chicken. Wednesday is apparently the Art Car crowd night-so be warned if that is not your scene. Their stir-fry dish is a good idea- you choose what type of noodle and protein you want and they do the rest. I get an idea that the rest of their menu can be adjusted to suit, like the stir-fry dish. Since I've been going there, their menu has changed at least three times.
I like the food at Jenni's, but I think the attitude of the place really makes it for me. Try going on Friday night, it's feather boa night. Maybe I'll see you there.