Newton’s Noodles just added two items to the District’s gastronomic lexicon: the Fuzu and the Chork. No, this isn’t a culinary fable, but the new joint may be able to leave you with a lesson on how to do Asian-infused, fast-casual dining right.
Dennis Friedman, executive chef of the upscale Bethesda restaurant Newton’s Table, left the white tablecloth and superfluous fussiness behind in this new project. Wrapped in sleek lines, slabs of wood, and earthy tones, and accentuated by flashes of lime green and glass paneling, the eatery is invitingly simple.
If anything, Friedman has taken this minimalism too far. The lighting is bright and harsh, making it difficult to settle in and relax. The restaurant is also dead quiet, with the dull hum of the ventilation system providing the only ambient noise. This sterile atmosphere, while consistent with the simplicity of the decor, stifles conversation and puts the practicality of the eatery—and not the satisfaction of the dining experience—first.
The hurry of Newton’s Noodles manifests in the joint’s signature dish, Fuzu. Like Chipotle, and at a similar price, this dish gives customers the freedom to customize their noodles without the three-hour wait for Leo’s Wok.
The easy decisions come first: rice or soba noodles, original soy or coco-curry sauce, and a one, two, or three flame spice level. Then decisions start to get tougher, with two choices of the six proteins offered, and three out of the seven veggies.
The fuzu doesn’t disappoint. The noodles are fluffy but not overcooked, and the mix-ins are heaped on generously. Although Friedman and I seem to be at odds when it comes to what a three flame spice level tastes like, the flavors are robust and live up to the Newton’s Noodles corny tagline: “the perfect balance of salty and sweet with a touch of heat.”
The menu offers a handful of non-noodle dishes as well. The duck confit spring rolls give an interesting take on a classic, although the tuna bites are overcooked.
Every meal is predictably served in a Chinese takeout box and comes with a black plastic Chork. This signature yet hilariously clumsy and ineffective utensil combines the fork and chopsticks in a gimmicky attempt at ethnic fusion. Friedman could have just as easily provided forks and chopsticks, rather than a silly mutation of the two.
Though it delivers its food rapidly and will soon get even faster with online ordering options, Newton’s Noodles pays particular attention to distinguishing itself from a fast food stop. In fact, Friedman has not just built a new downtown lunch stop. He has created a new model for the fast-casual restaurant that can be easily transformed into a franchise.
Meals are delivered on sturdy brushed aluminum trays, not flimsy, brown plastic ones. The typical Coke or Pepsi products are replaced with artisanal Maine Root sodas. It’s these deliberate touches that work to remind you that even though you’re eating quickly, you’re not filling up on pink slime and high-fructose corn syrup.
1129 20th Street, N.W.