Please take a moment to read Whitney B.’s review of Xi’an Noodles here. She took the time (not much) to write this, show some appreciation.
“FIGHT ME.” This timeless adage was selected by Whitney B to close the first paragraph of her Yelp review of Xi’an Noodles. Of course, people have been demanding fights for the entirety of human history and beyond. Go back to Homo erectus and then keep going; undoubtedly one hominid has been demanding physical altercation from another for millions of years. The reasons they had to fight could be over a number of things, but most likely it was about food or fucking. Conveniently this gives us a timeworn lens through which to understand our reviewer because she too wants to fight about food.
Whitney B would like to fight over the assertion that university students lack culinary principle, and therefore Seattle’s University District is, as she puts it, “a place where mediocre restaurants thrive.” It is not an altogether unreasonable assertion (arguably her best bit of reasoning in her review, but we will get to that) but certainly not something to fight over. Are college students known for their taste-making prowess in culinary circles? Hell no, but their lack of funds and standards are critical for food culture, especially in Seattle, a city with barely a whisper of street food culture.
Seattle food and entertainment is in a peculiar state of flux. An old guard of dive bars and local eateries is giving way to tech-money net businesses trying to catch healthy stock market runoff. Neighborhoods like Ballard and Capitol Hill, who’s former lackluster industrial grit was once construed as charm, are giving way to pretty penny sushi joints and cocktail houses printed straight from an Instagram or Pinterest feed. Street food, already a rarefied concept in the city, is on the verge of simply being supplanted by fast food chains. While authentic, this-place-would-not-exist-with-a-proper-health-code street food is not really a thing in a progressive American metropolis, the U-District is home to the closest thing Seattle can claim.
Traditionally, street food is hawked. It is sold to you under a barrage of noise, a theatre of smells, and invasive imagery. It is foisted upon you before other options capture your currency. Most likely you will not be able to sit and eat it on premises, and there are no health-code guarantees. It is fast food without the superfluous golden arch ethos. It is low-cost-of-entry food business that peddles time-tested flavors. The U-District doesn’t quite hawk things, but its food economy and organization make it much closer to street food than anywhere else in Seattle. Traverse University Way Northeast—colloquially known as “The Ave”—and you will witness gyro shops, sandwiched in between Pho houses, neighbored by bubble tea spouts, flanked by thai joints. Pepper in some coffee shops, sports bars, thrift stores, a lonesome Chipotle, and it begins to reveal a genuine outdoor market. The kind of place, under less rigorous zoning laws, people would line their carts and stands up to make a buck with the family recipe.
Dearest Whitney B., street food is nothing to sneer at, and what confuses me, is that it appears that you know this. You are absolutely correct when you say hand-pulled noodles are a “real delight to eat all over China.” The reason you can travel all over China and delight in them, Whitney, is that they are a traditional staple; they are a piece of Chinese history taught from the food cart lectern. Hand-pulled noodles are, in countless instances, street food. So why are you demanding a fight? I do not understand, but believe me, I am trying. Is it because you didn’t realize that the U-District is essentially street food? Or perhaps you would like it to be something else? If that is the case, well, I just don’t believe you.
Xi’an Noodles is on The Ave, but a few blocks north of the throng, where the storefronts begin to give way to apartment foyers. Whitney ventured up there in quite a state it seems, having been “amping” her workouts up to that of an “insane person.” She strolled into the modest noodle spot post workout, with quite the hunger rearing its gluttonous head. I commend Whitney for giving us a perspective into her psycho-somatic state upon encountering the food, as eating is both a sensorial and psychological experience. It is both intellectually refined, and libidinally debased. I eat my boredom and depression and do my best cooking when in love. After I fuck, I use more black pepper, and I do my best writing if I’ve had an egg sandwich in the morning. Whitney B may have similar inclinations, but she was kind enough to let us know that on this day, she was full libido, no intellect.
In a peculiar twist of metaphor that clumsily tried to intellectualize her raging hunger, she evokes the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ communities to show her readers just now indiscriminate her hunger was. I read her metaphor and winced, read it again, wrinkled my nose, moved on down the page and was finally able to put that dumpster-fire of a metaphor behind me when she proclaimed, “FUCK CHOICES! I JUST WANT FOOD!”
As it turns out, Whitney B. did not just want food. Her whole review is laissez-faire hypocrisy in light of that one all-caps claim. The three dishes she ate at Xi’an Noodles is hastily reviewed in her writing and feels like an obligatory copy and paste conclusion. She passes off the responsibility to review the food with a sly maneuver when she says, “None of these dishes warrant their own paragraphs,” and true to her word used just four sentences of 31 total to directly discuss the actual experience of eating the food. She wrapped those sentences in disparaging one-liners such as, “You may as well go ahead and grab me by my pussy while you’re trying to offend me here,” and, “I could’ve eaten 600 calories worth of white rice with sriracha and essentially have the same meal.”
As long as I am counting, her introduction was five sentences; she used six sentences to regale how hungry she was and why; five sentences were used to disapprove of the facilities.
Those five that took shots at the establishment were particularly hypocritical. If you just want food, as you MADE FUCKING SURE WE ALL KNEW, then tables that look like they were stolen from “seniors’ bingo night at the community center” ought to have little bearing on your eating experience. Pissing in a bathroom that doubles as excess dry storage should not infringe upon your ability to taste and masticate. It is these five sentences where Whitney B. exposes her true opinions about street food because she is affronted by aspects of the eatery that would be resolved if Xi’an Noodles graduated from hole-in-the-wall to established restaurant. It shows a blunt ignorance of the economic toil it takes to run a restaurant, and she lets this ignorance transform her ability to appreciate cooking and the significance of the dishes served at Xi’an Noodles.
I went to Xi’an Noodles with a companion and we ordered precisely what Whitney did, and then some. Perhaps there was a seasoning of spite in my decision to go, but fuck me if I don’t like the sound of Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles. Did I mention I eat my spite too? I wanted to set the record straight, to see if their food is worthy of paragraphs. Whitney’s 2 stars may be actively driving customer’s away, but it pulled me right it. Her lust-for-clicks-sensationalism made me hungry and possessing an entry-level fascination in the city of Xi’an, I got myself over to the U-District to see what was up.
In my opinion, there are few animals that taste better than baby sheep. Lamb has a flat, dry aroma that makes me feel like I am in on a salacious secret that nobody else around me knows. I think it is because growing up my mother would prepare lamb only occasionally because two or three of my siblings (I have five) did not care for it. This turned it into a treat, one that lassoed my sizable nose, and yanked me into the kitchen through the back door as soon as I turned through my parents’ gate and my feet hit the patio. Its dark fibers are like a foxy disciplinarian, driving my taste buds to submissive BDSM orgasm. In college, I studied abroad in Prague, and for spring break I chose to travel to Turkey by myself for a week, rather than partying down in Italy with my roommates. I did so because stumbling around in a haze of alcohol with American tourists is a great way to learn nothing at all, and quite frankly I am a slut for middle eastern cuisine. Yes, I fully realize that Italy looks down at most of the rest of the world from its gastronomical high horse, and deservedly so. Still, the ubiquitous promise of lamb on every street corner and gözleme for breakfast carried me East.
Xi’an Noodles Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles did not entirely disappoint as the lamb flavor carried through the oily spice nicely. Initially, I thought it was an odd juxtaposition; the gamey Lamb flavor wafted me to the Middle East; to the cradle of civilization and monotheism, where cultures sprung around rivers and insulated themselves with expanses of harsh desert and indomitable hills. Whereas the broad, moist noodles dripping in chili sauce wanted to pull me to the lusher regions of the far east. Then I remembered that the city of Xi’an, capital of the Shaanxi Province, was the terminus for the Silk Road. The spread of Middle Eastern culture to China was imported through Xi’an, and the dissemination of Chinese Culture to the west departed from this city. I sampled the confluence for $10 on The Ave.
Whitney B. complains of the lamb and flavors sliding off the noodles, and laments the false promise of a savory and spicy flavor. They use ground lamb in the dish which does leave much to be desired. You get the dish, smell the unmistakable lamb, and as you tuck in you wish there was a strip of lamb to chew at and create a formidable texture foundation for the dishes’ flavors to mingle upon. Ground, the texture merely glances at you in passing, I prefer an embrace personally. Moreover, ground lamb is significantly more difficult to grasp with chopsticks, points to Whitney on this one. However, the dish is made with biang biang noodles, the widest noodles in the world. They are long and broad noodles with plenty of surface area for the flavors to adhere to, which presumably is the whole fucking point. The oily spice sticks to them well at Xi’an Noodles, contrary to what Ms. B would have you believe, and while the ground lamb tends to slide off, some basic chopstick competency solves your issue. Simply arrange a noodle so you are no picking it up from one end, but pinch at least two points on the long noodle against each other, thereby creating a little cradle for sauce and meat. If multiple noodles are stuck together or glommed up, take the time to separate them. Craft your bites exactly how you want them; the chef prepares what is to be eaten, but the artistic process does not end there, you get to do the eating. Food, by all accounts, is interactive art. If YOU JUST WANT FOOD like Whitney B., then go find a motherfucking fork, or better yet spend an extra 50 cents and order the Spicy Cumin Lamb Hand-Ripped Noodles In Soup. They’ll serve it with a ladle perfectly shaped for piling with noodles, sauce, and meat for big Whitney B. sized bites.
On the menu, there is chili pepper icon next to certain items to indicate that they are spicy. In my experience, this is an icon that is about as informative as Whitney B’s four sentences on the food. As common as it is on menus throughout across food-dom, a single icon can never hope to be a nuanced liaison for the glorious institution of the spice spectrum. I have ordered pad thai next to a little chili icon that made me get up from the table, walk outside, and weep in front of some street corner hobos, trying not to puke. To understand the target level of spice for any one dish, or at any one eatery, simply takes experience. Of course, a little geography would never hurt you Whitney B. The Shaanxi Province is officially considered to be a part of the Northwest Region of China, but by all accounts, it is about as central as it gets. It is arranged on a north to south linear layout, with its northern border tapering into the barren steppes of northern China, its southern region bloats to create a bulbous border with the Sichuan Province. The city of Xi’an is right in the belly of Shaanxi. That its spice profile dilutes the refill-your-water-after-every-bite palette of its southern neighbor makes perfect sense. Whitney B was looking for a fight, and perhaps she just wanted a spicy foe to kick her ass, but Xi’an Noodles is not the place to go looking for it. If you go, expect tingly spice brought on by the chili oil that pervades their menu. It is not an exclamation point, but rather an underline used to weave a narrative across their offerings.
This common flavor thread found its way into the Cucumber Garlic Salad. I found this dish to be an excellent foil to the heavy hand-pulled noodles and lamb. The large chunks of English cucumber offered a sweet, refreshing crunch, while still dwelling in a slight chili spice. You would hope that the Won-Tons in Chili Sauce would be a similar compliment to the noodles and meat; you would like to take a break from forming bites and to pluck a dumpling, and plop it in your mouth for a full bite and a squish of flavor. Full bite yes, flavor not so much. Alas, it is something I have not done much of, I have to agree with Whitney B on this one: the won-tons in chili sauce felt as if they pulled a steamed dumpling and hastily plopped it in the chili sauce. The flavors didn’t have time to mingle, seduce, and bed each other. It was like freshman orientation for the won-tons and the chili sauce. Frankly, they can get back to me after winter break.
Whitney either went to Xi’an Noodles on a bad day (the best part about food is that humans prepare it, and bad days are a part of the invisible contract we all sign when our parents fuck us into existence without our permission), or as I am more inclined to suspect, she simply wasn’t in the right state of mind to be appreciating the food Xi’an noodles is serving. I’m not lobbying for Xi’an to receive any Michelin stars or anything, but to give them two stars on yelp in the way that Whitney B did is blithe at best. She writes as if her private aspiration is to be a stand-up comedian, quipping poorly formed jokes for clicks and a modicum of internet fame. In pursuit of a half-baked bedroom fantasy, a hard-working business loses the chance to prove its worth to a customer.
You may be able to dine on the premise of Xi’an Noodles, you may receive your meal on a dish not made out of paper, you may not have to bus your own mess, but the fare at Xi’an Noodles is rooted in a street food tradition. You order at the counter, your meal comes quickly, you pour your own water. The flavor combinations are simple, and the ingredients are a time-tested tradition from an Ancient Chinese city. The underlying reality of the restaurant is that it is a family owned and single location; it is a small business to its core, which means a very narrow line between success and demise. Each star it dips below five on the yelp meter is business lost to the crowded Seattle noodle scene. The sad part is, that it is business lost before it has a chance prove itself thanks to Whitney B spouting sensationalized bullshit like, “I could’ve eaten 600 calories worth of white rice with sriracha and essentially have the same meal.” Then again, I am just another anonymous internet talking head, spouting with the rest of them.
Perhaps you will want to heed the opinions of Whitney B, and stick to the noodles you know and love. If you do, all that I can say is that you won’t taste what Xi’an noodles have to offer. It is as simple as that, an experience passed by and a bit of flavored knowledge of which you will have no part. If you let Yelp do your thinking, then you will probably end up achieving the same reliable satisfaction night after night. At that point, you might as well call up Whitney B, make some rice and sriracha, and have a party celebrating predictability. Please do not invite me, I would rather experience food, even if it means risking dissatisfaction.