002 MAGAZINE October 2002

by Libby C. Weathers
Jenni's Noodle House

There are times when an unpretentious dining experience is king. Hence, one feels especially prudent walking into a Vietnamese noodle house named Jenni's, being served the menu's offerings of "$3 STEALS", "$5DEALS" or "$7 MEALS" by her sister Milky Way, then walking away full and happy without breaking a ten-spot. One doesn't make the short drive to old Chinatown for the d├ęcor or the Lucite fiesta-ware. This is fresh Vietnamese. Every recipe comes from Jenni's mom, a Vietnamese emigrant, and every dish is cooked to order. The prices are great, the portions are generous and the service is relaxed and efficient.

Lunch began with "Disco Dumplings." Available steamed, or in this case pan fried and executed perfectly: an ideal crispness on the bottom and a soft top accompanied by home-made ginger-soy dipping sauce with a kick of jalapeno- the vegetarian version is of particular note.

On to "Salt-n-Pepper Shrimp." Six shrimp cooked just right, served on a bed of jasmine rice and topped with chives. While this diner could have taken S-n-P on her serving, Jenni will happily adjust spices and ingredients to your liking. "Thai Spicy Shrimp Soup" ranked in the mid-range for true spice lovers: again simply ask to turn it up a notch or two, as your palate desires.

Super Fried Rice is rich with bite-size pieces of roasted pork and seasoned chicken, balanced with bean sprouts and chives. The "Wonton soup" is bursting with 12 pork-filled wontons, fresh lettuce and thinly sliced pork. Set in a clean, greaseless, delicate broth, it just fells good going down.

On a one-year voluntary leave from Continental Airlines, Jenni Tran-Weaver is making the most of her time. "I thought about opening a coffee house for a while. However, after having visited noodle houses in cities like San Francisco, I'd come back to Houston looking for one, but never found one." Mentored by Barnaby's owner Jeff Gale, Jenni opened her doors last May, and as she says, "Response has been great!"

Vegetarians rejoice, as all of Jenni's vegetarian dishes are truly vegan, and a round of applause as there's not a drop of MSG in the house.

"Inferno Chicken Curry" emits a sweet coconut flavor followed be a slow warming from red pepper flakes. The broth is good enough to drink. However, your dining partners may prefer your adding the side of jasmine rice to the bowl and ingesting with your spoon. I'd ask for a bit of extra fresh basil next time to better balance the dish. "Buddha Soba" proved to be the most benign dish tasted, although the flavor revealed itself as the dish reached room temperature, I'd request the tofu pan seared and not fried.

Know of any other restaurant that advertises its "money back guarantee desserts"? Printed on the menu for all to see, "if you have one bite and decide this is not for you, it's on the house!" Bottled water is .50, no tap water served. Fresh limeade, beer and wine.

Jenni's has an up-vibe. A peek in the kitchen will find the petite, bright proprietress, bandana on head, working the pans of numerous entrees at once. Patrons find it hard to resist commenting on the t-shirts for sale, reading, "I saw Brad Pitt at Jenni's Noodle House", "Ozzy brought the kids", and "Make your belly proud". Her theory for success, "Don't take it too seriously. Provide great service and great food."


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