Sometimes something very simple can be sublime. Take noodles for example, especially those being served up at Deedee Kwong’s Mee Heng Low Noodle House.
If either of those names sounds familiar, there’s good reason. The two-story Mee Heng Low restaurant on Palm Street dates back before the turn of the 20th century, and is an iconic part of downtown San Luis Obispo’s Chinatown district. Its newest incarnation is thanks to Kwong, whose own involvement with the area’s culinary scene stretches back two decades to the early days of the now-defunct-but-once-popular Rhythm Café on Broad Street.
Prior to that, Kwong was no stranger to the restaurant industry, having opened such prestigious eateries in Los Angeles as the Four Seasons at Doheny and Third, and Campanile.
Admittedly, Mee Heng Low Noodle House is a much smaller endeavor, and that’s absolutely by design.
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“We want to keep it simple, and — with very few exceptions — it will be Chinese specifically,” said Kwong, adding that “it will evolve itself from what people like and don’t like.”
The restaurant opened in July with only four menu items: three noodle dishes and a soup bowl to which you could add noodles. The options of chop suey (flat noodles), chow mein (crisp fried noodle cake) and low mein (big noodles) all offer vegetables with your choice of ginger soy, black bean, peanut chili or sweet plum sauce, and you can add proteins such as tofu, chicken, red pork, shrimp or beef.
Yes, the concept may be basic, the flavors certainly aren’t. Each dish is cooked to order (the soup broth is obviously made in advance), so that the flavors remain distinct but harmonized, and the veggies are perfectly cooked without a hint of mushiness.
As the restaurant’s concept gets further dialed in, Kwong plans to use more local and sustainable products, as well as developing a farmers market approach to other dishes besides just the specials.
However, even though it’s only been open a few months, Mee Heng Low is already evolving as predicted. A tasty special of glass (mung bean) noodle salad with crispy salmon is being moved to the permanent menu, but others will take its place “daily, as ideas come, and some of those may end up on the menu as well,” said Kwong.
“We’d like to offer more fish, more duck and dim sum,” she said, “and we’re also starting appetizers like pot stickers (pan-fried dumplings) and char sui bao (steamed buns stuffed with pork), and some desserts — homemade almond cookies, maybe a crème brulée with macadamia nuts, a lychee tart with almond paste, and sorbets.” Several fresh noodle dishes are on the horizon as well.
While the Noodle House menu is certainly open to change, the Mee Heng Low part of the equation definitely isn’t, especially as it relates to the historic neighborhood. (In fact, plans for Chinese New Year in 2010 are being hatched, and there’s already been a tie-in with The Palm Theatre: during a recent Kung Fu double feature, moviegoers had the option of getting a “Kung Fu Bowl” of noodles to enjoy during the show.)
Aside from some refurbishing and upgrading to give the venerable structure a slightly more contemporary feel and function, it will remain as is.
“We’ve always had a crush on this building,” said Kwong, noting that she and husband Paul are good friends of the Gin family, a pre-eminent Chinatown family and the original owners of the building.
“(The Gins) asked us to keep it what it was — a family business and a Chinese restaurant — and we will. Their wishes are the same wishes we have.”