Noodles & Company speaks a universal language: pasta
Apr. 17, 2003
M.J. Pleasure

Brian Lewis/The Gazette

An inviting trio from Noodles & Company in Gaithersburg includes (clockwise from center) mushroom Stroganoff, penne rosa, a new dish, and Japanese pan noodles.



A Mongolian raises a bowl of broth with noodles to his lips. A Vietnamese sips his pho. A Tokyo native slurps his udon. In Shanghai, Singapore and Seoul, street vendors conduct a brisk business in noodles. Families in Laos and Thailand eat noodle dishes of national acclaim, khao poon and pad thai. And Italians, from the north to the tip of the boot, engage in a love affair with pasta.

All over the world at some time of day, someone is eating noodles. Gaithersburg is no exception, thanks to the debut of Noodles & Company three months ago. The noodle emporium in Kentlands bridges the gap between fast food and a full-service restaurant, offering quick, casual dining. The idea merited a "Hot Concept!" nod from Nation's Restaurant News for the 8-year-old Boulder, Colo., company with 59 outlets.

With a world to draw from, Noodles & Company fields an international menu and updates it periodically. The spotlight is on fresh, healthy ingredients. Eleven pastas, two noodle soups and two noodle salads are prepared to order and delivered to the table in china bowls.

Sunny mustard yellow walls, indigo accent lights and bamboo micro-lam tables punctuate the U-shaped dining area. Wavy wooden "noodle" fins hanging from the ceiling and striking color photographs of markets around the world add a cachet.

Patrons are encouraged to queue up, place their order and get a number before finding a seat. Otherwise the system breaks down, as a spiral drawing humorously points out. The noodle emporium seats just under 100 inside and two dozen more outside.

Basic noodles hover around $5 with add-ons like veggies, cheese, tofu, chicken breast, beef tenderloin and shrimp, costing 75 cents to $1.95. Those prices plus the no tip zone designation make dining easy on the wallet. The selection is family friendly, too. Comfort food like macaroni and cheese (even grown-ups go for the cream-enhanced blend of cheddar and jack cheeses) is available in a smaller portion size.

The pesto cavatappi (corkscrew noodles) might make a Genovese envious, even if the American touch -- flash sautéing the pasta and vegetables with white wine and cream -- is not traditional.

Equally refreshing, pasta fresca dresses penne, sautéed fresh tomatoes, onions and garlic with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

The Far East is amply represented. Wok-seared lo mein, featuring Shanghai noodles, sliced carrots, baby bok choy, scallions and red cabbage, is a hearty dish. With an accent on authenticity, the Shanghai noodles, as well as the udon noodles in the Japanese pan noodles, come from a Brooklyn company that has been making them for 50 years.

The spicy Indonesian peanut sauté, a rice noodle melange with broccoli, carrots and Napa cabbage, like many dishes, invites customization with your favorite add-on. Seasoning is vibrant, but a bottle of Sriracha chile sauce is at hand for those who want more heat.

For simplicity, buttered egg noodles and parmesan is as basic as it gets. It comes in a smaller size, with or without the Italian seasoning.

Dear to the heart of allergy sufferers is Noodles & Company's Hot List, a comprehensive breakdown of ingredients in all their dishes.

Desserts like the homespun rice crispy treats and puddin' cookies may cater to the kid in all of us, but the choice of beverages is decidedly adult. Among the things you won't find at the usual fast-serve restaurants are wines by the glass. Bottles of Kendall Jackson Collage Zinfindel Shiraz, Lindemann Chardonnay, Chateau Ste. Michelle Johannisberg Reisling, Stonehedge Merlot and Penfold Shiraz are on display at the counter. Corona and Tsing Tao beers join Colorado-made Mountain Sun organic juices and Stewart's sodas, SoBe elixirs, Nantucket Nectars and Tazo teas. All those drinks, yet no coffee. The company spokesman explains that if you serve coffee these days, it must exceed customers' expectations. For now, the company is focusing on other quality beverages. Noodles & Company is one very attractive destination nonetheless.

Noodles & Company

177 Kentlands Blvd.,

Gaithersburg

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.- 10 p.m.

Entrée prices: $4.95-$5.95 plus add-ons if desired

Credit cards: MC, V

Carry out: 301-926-5901

No smoking, accessible