Soup dumplings weren’t originally on the menu at Noodle Lane. The kitchen — completely built out in a converted Park Slope shoe store — hadn’t been structured to accommodate a xiao long bao station.
But when owner Lane Li’s 7-year-old son found out his favorite dish wasn’t a part of the plan, he pleaded with Li to change her mind. And in March when the restaurant opened, the dumpling station was a big part of the restaurant’s operations.
In addition to pan-fried or steamed pork and veggie dumplings and steamed pork dumplings in chili vinaigrette, Noodle Lane serves soup dumplings — pork, pork and crab, and chicken. Li says they’re the restaurant’s “number one bestseller.” As such, there’s an excellent chance they’ll be available on the brunch menu the restaurant plans to launch early next year.
The noodles at Noodle Lane aren’t made in house, but the dumplings are, and Li says every part of the popular dish is made from scratch daily. Bones are simmered in a broth for a long time, fresh ingredients round out the various fillings, and the dumpling dough is made fresh every day. It’s not complicated, says Li, but it is done “right.”
From food truck to full kitchen
Noodle Lane isn’t new to the neighborhood, per se, having been a Smorgasburg mainstay since it launched in Williamsburg in 2011 and eventually added a weekend day in Prospect Park — a mile from the brick-and-mortar on Seventh Avenue. From day one, Li has been smitten with the seasonal food truck bonanza, which reminded her of Singapore’s revered food markets.
Li actually started her career in finance, which she found unfulfilling. So she pivoted to her first love: food. She enrolled in the French Culinary Institute (now The International Culinary Center), graduated in 2006 and traveled around Asia in 2008 (Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea), before finding inspiration — and the impetus to start her own business — from Smorgasburg.
Eric Demby, one of Smorgasburg’s founders, calls Noodle Lane “a model for other vendors: take what you know and love, make it perfectly every time, and grow at a pace that works for you.” He adds that small businesses like Noode Lane that have launched from the Smorgasburg platform “are at the core of why we started the markets.”
At Smorgasburg, Li started with dan dan noodles and added a cold peanut noodle dish that came about sort of accidentally. Soup dumplings weren’t a fixture of Noodle Lane’s nascent days, and, in fact, would have been “impossible” to pull off at Smorgasburg, where regulating the outside temperature (a factor Li says will “ruin the dumplings”) wasn’t possible. At the restaurant, though, Li and her team can control for all things, and have room to work the dough and fill the individual toothsome pieces.
The soup dumplings, like all of Noodle Lane’s menu items can be ordered to-go (find Noodle Lane on all the standard third-party apps), but the restaurant’s dining-in option is an inviting one. The space is bright and airy with soft lighting and an exposed brick wall that’s been painted white. A small selection of wine and beer are available along with hot tea and a bracingly sweet lemonade, the latter serving as a nice contrast to many of the dishes’ bold flavors.
Watercolor paintings by artist Tim Saternow hang on the brick wall and these help tell the story of Noodle Lane and Li.
Flavors of Chinatown
Li grew up in China and moved to the United States when she was 6 without speaking a word of English.
“It was culture shock,” she says, though familiar ground was found during the family’s regular visits to New York’s Chinatown. Li’s favorite Chinatown spots are captured in Saternow’s photo-like paintings that adorn the brick wall: Famous Sichuan, Big Wong, Wo Hop. “All the old Chinese restaurants, that’s what inspired all of this,” Li says, gesturing at the warm space, redolent with the aroma of juicy pork and scallions and spicy mala hot pots coming from the semi-open kitchen.
And it was Guan Fu, a Flushing restaurant that shuttered during the pandemic, that inspired Noodle Lane’s pickled fish dish. The Pickled Fish Sichuan Style is one of three dishes listed under Chef’s Specials, and it is the one Li is most proud of. Guan Fu, “had many awesome dishes, but one of their best dishes — and I call it the greatest dish of all time, it really was — was the pickled fish,” says Li.
The dish kept her up at night. Li toiled with her pickled fish recipe for months, and even though she says it took her a long time to “crack the secret recipe, the code,” she’s not completely satisfied. “I think I’m pretty close.”
Served in a deep bowl with rice on the side, the fish is at once a little sweet, salty, and spicy. It’s hearty and robust and packs a deep and earthy flavorful punch with each bite, a result of Sichuan peppercorns, mustard green pickles, red and green chili peppers, and Bunapi mushrooms. Li uses tilapia but says any white fish would work, but aside from that she won’t reveal her secrets.
Sichuan classics and Cantonese comforts
Because Li loves Sichuan cuisine most of all, Noodle Lane’s menu plays a number of Sichuan hits: Dan dan noodles, mapo tofu with minced pork, Sichuan chicken with bamboo shoots, and mala dry pot.
There are a few popular Americanized Chinese dishes on the menu as well. General Tso’s, Sesame chicken, Lo Mein — Li explains these items as a way to “offer some classic dishes so as to not shock people. I wanted [the menu] to be balanced and give people some of their comfort dishes, alongside maybe some new items.”
So far the reception has been great, she says. “I have people come in who tell me they’ve been in the neighborhood for as long as I’ve been alive, waiting for a good Chinese restaurant, and they finally found it.”
Noodle Lane is located at 230 Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. Hours are Monday through Thursday noon to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday noon to 9:30 p.m.
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