HOUSTON VOICE

Dining by J.A. Chapman
Jenni's Serves Attitude!
May 16, 2003

Sassy atmosphere at Vietnamese restaurant matches tasty dishes it offers up!
HOLD ON TO YOUR FEATHER BOAS! A visit to Jenni's Noodle House is a fabulous, delicious ride.

Located in old Chinatown on the east side of downtown,Jenni's Noodle House is a restaurant with attitude. Maybe it's those T-shirts above the counter with slogans like "Madonna Eats Here" and "My Noodle is Bigger than Your Noodle." Whatever the reason, it's definitely clear that Jenni's Noodle House is not your typical Vietnamese eatery.

With hip red walls, mirrored columns and black and white photos on the walls, Jenni's Noodle House is a sleek standout in what is generally a neighborhood "in transition." On a recent Saturday night, a friendly waiter found us a table, and joked with us while he took out drink orders. The irreverent humor is definitely part of the appeal here.

The menu is easy to understand, offering $3 Steals, Deals ($5 or $6) and $8 Meals. With nothing over $8, except for bottles of wine, it's also a fairly economical meal out. We started with edamame ($3), those addictive salted soybeans, and dream rolls ($3 for 2), because they were all out of the spring rolls we really wanted. We enjoyed the dreams rolls, stuffed with tofu, shitake mushrooms and vermicelli, but the accompanying house soy sauce was the real discovery. Tangy and vinegary, it woke those dream rolls out of their slumber, making for an excellent start to our meal.

Jenni's Noodle House has a funky offbeat ambience. Classic '70s and '80s disco and pop tunes provide a grooving vibe and everyone seems to be having a good time. The table of 10 next to us was decked out in feather boas, and no doubt there would be more on display on Boa Friday. If you forget your boa, just borrow one of the ones hanging by the front door.

For the main course, we tried the Shrimply Ramen ($8),which arrived as a bowl of fresh ramen noodles, shrimp, shrimp patties, Japanese fishcakes, and lettuce, all in a savory broth. This dish was a cornucopia of funky Asian foods, some of which were new to us. The fresh ramen noodles were a bit tough, but we'd never had them fresh before, so maybe that's how they were supposed to be. The shrimp patty, with its spongy texture, was weirdly satisfying. With fresh bean sprouts, jalapenos, and plum paste on the side, this dish provided a delicious wealth of flavors and textures.

We also tried the Infernal Chicken ($8). A coconut-curry dish. It arrived as a broth, full of chicken and potatoes, with jasmine rice on the side. We were slightly surprised, since the menu didn't mention broth, but we were not disappointed. The intoxicating coconut-curry broth was a winner, and after all the chicken was gone, we were slurping it out of the bowl. We also enjoyed the straightforward Salt-n-Pepper Shrimp ($8). Six generously sized shrimp tossed with salt, pepper, and chives served with jasmine rice. It was simply but good.

WE STILL HAD A BIT OF ROOM LEFT for desert ($4 each),and queried out waiter as to what was available. When he mentioned the tres leches, we asked his opinion. Being a good waiter, he said it was tasty, but volunteered that he didn't think it was up to the gold standard quality of Churrasco's. We tried a piece anyway, and decided that our waiter was right. It was rich and milky, but not the best we've had.

On the other hand, the simple white cake with a rich dark chocolate icing was divine. We polished it off, fighting each other for the last bit of that deep chocolate frosting.

Just so you know, Jenni's Noodle House does not serve tap water. It says so all over the menu. Bottled water is available at 50 cents. Or try the delicious limeade ($2), or hot chrysanthemum tea ($2), which comes in glass with dried chrysanthemum flowers floating in it

Owner Jenni Tran-Weaver has created a cool little dining spot where almost everyone can find something they like. The menu offers a special lap dance from Jenni's husband Scott ($50). You'll need to reserve that waaaaay in advance, though.

As we passed the boa rack by the door, out waiter called out his thanks and told us to come back again. With the disco beat grooving us out into the warm Houston night, we all agreed we would.

RATING
Food: 4 plates (out of 5)
Service: 4 plates
Value: 4½ plates
Scene: 4½ plates

 

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