Tim Cebula
February 01, 2011

So with hand-pulled Asian noodles all the rage these days, I was thrilled to sink my teeth into some masterfully crafted, chewy-tender strands just last week. I was in Las Vegas at China Poblano, D.C.-based star chef Jose Andres’ (minibar, Jaleo, Café Atlantico, etc.) foray into Asian-Latino fusion. I sampled several of the offerings at the month-old restaurant, and they ranged from “good” to “I could make that my lunch for, like, ever.” [Full disclosure: My trip was sponsored by the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where China Poblano and a number of other restaurants have opened. Fuller disclosure: I never speak highly of places I visit on press trips unless the praise is genuinely warranted. Sadly, one of my last remaining virtues…]

But discover the pleasures of China Poblano on your own. I’m here to marvel at the art and craft of hand-pulled noodles. It’s an amazing spectacle to witness. The noodle master at China Poblano, Zhang Aifeng (who is visiting for a month to school the Vegas cooks on Asian pasta), starts with a ball of simple dough. He rolls and tugs it into a long, skinny baguette shape. Before long, he’s lengthened, folded, and twisted the dough into a braid that he thwap-thwaps onto the stainless steel counter, stretching it and developing the glutens. He continues in this manner, twisting and spinning the dough in a devilish rendition of double Dutch. Within a few minutes, the game turns from jump rope to cat’s cradle, and—it seems very sudden when it happens—he’s separated the dough into dozens of perfectly formed noodles.

I saw it with my own eyes, and, like a perfectly executed magic trick, I honestly don’t know how he did it. The feel that Chef Aifeng has developed for the pasta dough is astonishing. I wish I’d thought to take a video of it, rather than just blurry still shots from my phone, but here’s a video of another noodle maker in action. 

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