Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Noodles & Company Springtime Dishes Review

Asparagus di Parma

Twice a year, one of my favorite fast casual restaurants Noodles & Company tries something new. This spring, it's a quartet of colorful, light-tasting dishes (one each - starter, flatbread, salad and entree) that's sure to turn your thoughts to baseball, picnics, vacations and other warm-weather favorites.

It's a tad ambitious to order all four items at once (plus a dessert) but I like to think of myself as a trained professional. That said, I strongly recommend splitting your order into two visits. I stopped by my new favorite N&C at 1140 19th Street, and received stellar customer service (as usual.) Nothing sets a better table than great customer service, and the staff here really know how to get you in and out with a smile. Better still, they know how to stagger a large order... bringing out my hummus starter and Margherita Flatbread first (along with an amazing bottle of Izze Sparkling Grapefruit... oh là là) before my mains.

Rustic Hummus

The first two dishes were close to perfect. A small order of Rustic Hummus served with fresh cucumber, red bell pepper, broccoli and pita chips sets you back just $3.29 ($5.29 for a regular, twice the amount.) The hummus (made in-house, daily) is out of this world. So good in fact, I ordered some TO GO after lunch. I love hummus, and N&C's is one of the few that requires no added paprika... It's naturally rich tasting. The chips are sinfully good (almost cracker-like) but the entire plate still manages to weigh in at less than 400 calories. Love the red pepper, but you can keep the broccoli and cucumbers (perhaps more chips instead?)

After that, it was time for N&C's latest pizza - Margherita Flatbread (only $3.29!) I was a huge fan of their (since discontinued) Pork Adobo Flatbread, but it seems to have been too spicy for most. Margherita (basil, Italian seasonings, feta and Parmesan cheeses and Roma tomato) is decidedly safer, and likely to please almost everyone. I made a special request to have it cooked longer... The cheese cooks better, and the crust comes out crispier) and it makes a big difference. As always, special requests are met with a friendly, "No problem!" Four slices for just over 3 bucks = best deal in the house.

Margherita Flatbread

With starters out of the way, I moved on to N&C's generous portions of Backyard Barbecue Chicken Salad and Asparagus di Parma (small orders of each, cost $6.99; Regular size, a dollar more.) The first thing you notice on both plates is color, especially the salad. Freshness too, as each topping (pulled chicken breast tossed in barbecue sauce, fresh-cut corn, Roma tomato and red cabbage with mixed greens & tangy coleslaw dressing) looks like it was carefully prepared only minutes before plating. Make no mistake, this is not a side salad: This dish will definitely fill you all by itself. Tons of flavor, I saved half for later (bending my own rules on leftovers.) FYI, it keeps great in the fridge for at least another 24 hours. P.S. Lots of tomatoes too... Score!

The Asparagus di Parma is loaded with flavors... asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes and tender chicken with a heavy dose of Parmesan over N&C's trademark pasta noodles. The skin literally peeled off each cube of chicken, and each bite had at least three different tastes to it. It's a lot to take in, and probably not for the less adventurous diners in your group. Me? I loved it (except for mushrooms... I'll be sure to ask for none next time: I'm just not a fan.) It's hard to argue with asparagus, especially this time of year. One last note: Watch out for hints of white wine butter sauce - It makes a rich dish even richer (perhaps too rich.)

Backyard Barbecue Chicken Salad

I couldn't leave without going back for a Snoodledoodle Cookie (brown sugar & cinnamon for $1.59.) I also remembered to ask them to heat it up for me (once again, no problem with extra requests) which immediately lifts the cookie into "Heavenly" territory. Next time, I'll have a Rice Crispy: Hmm... Only three desserts total? More please!

Snoodledoodle Cookie

Overall, I'm super impressed with the new items. I had trouble walking after (it's a lot of food) but I'll come back for at least three of the four (I must admit, I miss the Pork Adobo Flatbread.) Changing the menu twice a year seems like a stroke of genius, adding just enough newness to an already extensive lineup. Noodles & Company plans on opening a new branch in downtown Bethesda (4931 Elm Street, where Ri Ra used to be) soon, effectively covering all my "hot spots." At this point, I can't see how they could "lose me." The only question left is... When do the autumn dishes arrive?