The Chinese ideal of noodle-making probably belongs to those guys who fling lumps of dough across the room, transforming balls of flour and water into strands of wire-fine pasta as deftly as street-corner scam artists hide peas under walnut shells. Those fragile noodles are perfect for brief poaching in delicate broth, or tossing with a few slivers of white-meat chicken and a half-dozen bean sprouts; urban and refined, also a little dull. If noodles were Chinese music, those noodles would be the dainty pluckings of the ch'in.
Dow Shaw, a small Chinese restaurant in San Gabriel, specializes in the sort of noodle 100 generations of Chinese chefs have probably regarded with horror, thick, clumsy noodles that run somewhere between spaetzle and pappardelle , self-consciously rustic things that taste of themselves whether fried with mixed seafood and lots of garlic or immersed with tendon in a deep, anise-scented beef broth, dipped in vinegar or painted with Dow Shaw's smoky house chile-oil, topped with braised brisket or sauteed with fresh-tasting, authentic moo shoo pork.
The noodles, hand-cut in the style of Shanxi (a northern Chinese province that's sandwiched somewhere between Beijing and Inner Mongolia), are irregular and kind of lumpy, which makes them brutish but enhances their ability to pick up sauce. They have that good, dense pasta bite you find sometimes in farmhouses outside Modena but rarely in Chinese noodle houses . . . where noodles, after all, are basically conduits for vast quantities of sauteed pork or sesame paste, something to pick at after you've eaten all the pan-fried dumplings. And the noodles are delicious, so delicious that I caught myself eating them plain out of the box the last time I took out an order to go. (Dow Shaw packs the noodles separately from the soup so that they don't get soggy on the way home.)
To get to Dow Shaw, you head for Valley Boulevard, a street that seems to have become solid Asian restaurants from El Sereno practically to Temple City, and duck into an alley behind the restaurant. From the parking lot, you walk down a hall heavy with incense, past a jumbled Chinese video store, and around the front into a bare, Formica room that looks like every noodle joint you've ever been into. To drink: tea. Chopsticks: disposable. Music: The Wave, blasted louder than you've ever heard it before.
When you step into a Jewish deli, you know what to expect: knishes and kreplach soup; half-sours and pastrami-on-rye. When you walk into a Northern Chinese-style "deli," you also know pretty much what to expect--cold plates, noodles, dumplings--at least since the success of the Mandarin Deli chain of noodle shops, whose menu codified a hunger for seaweed salad and pan-fried scallion pancakes that a lot of us didn't know that we had.
Cold plates at Dow Shaw, little appetizer dishes whose flavors are more focused than those at most other Chinese noodle shops, include a pungent salad of seaweed and shreds of pressed bead curd; crunchy bits of pig ear doused with chile; crisp, thin slices of marinated cucumber; meltingly tender beef tendon that dissolves to soy and sweet anise on your tongue. There are peanuts boiled with anise until they resemble soft, bloated beans. There are tiny, dried anchovies spiked with chewy shreds of meat and fresh, sliced chiles: spectacularly good.
In place of the usual scallion pancakes, there's Dow Shaw's "House Special Pie," which costs all of $1.75. It's a thin, fried wheat pancake, studded with vegetables, that starts out crisp as potato chips and ends up chewy and sweet and slightly greasy: both stages of the pie's life are appealing in their own way. In place of pan-fried dumplings, you'll find yellow-chive-and-pork dumplings, wrapped in a lumpy sort of dough, which are great and juicy when hot but cool into something sort of leaden.
And then there are huge bowls of those noodles. Compare them to the stalwart bleatings of an er hu band--they're unlike anything else you'll find in L.A.
Dow Shaw Noodle House, 432 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (818) 572-0617. Closed Wednesdays. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., for dinner, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Takeout. Cash only. No alcohol. Lot parking in rear. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$14.