Though they opened in stealth mode, with little fanfare, Noodle Central, the long awaited cousin to Nelson Yip’s Aozora, has emerged as a restaurant to watch. Yip is behind the menu; brother-in-law Ho Yung and wife Myra (also of Simply Zen) are behind the execution of the restaurant, a family dream a long time coming. A more casual, budget-friendly destination than Aozora, it features an eclectic Pan Asian/European menu that solves the dilemma of “You want Thai, but I crave Japanese.” The menu’s Orient express ride through Asian cuisine makes stops in Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand. The fare is so eclectic it even features linguini (it is a noodle) as well as a soulful French onion soup that although out of left field, is in sync with the restaurant’s comfort food focus. And what could be more comforting than a bowl of noodles, something Noodle Central explores in a variety of familar dishes (think pad Thai) as week as other more unique offerings (sweet potato noodle salad). There’s also a separate vegetarian menu.
Some dishes still need tweaking — tofu fries, although artfully presented, lacked any real flavor. What we’d loved: rock shrimp, seaweed salad, and the spicy Siam noodle soup. What we’d love to see: a menu stop in Shanghai for crab and pork soup dumplings.
Noodle Central doesn’t feature the skyscraper presentation Yip became famous for at Aozora, but expect beautifully presented, inventive food in a very aesthetically pleasing, Zen-like space. The space, in fact, is its own story — the restaurant is the centerpiece of the former H. Mullen Livery building, a throwback to the days of horse-drawn stagecoaches that managed to survive all these years.
Yung was able to purchase the building only after the original owner’s plans to sell the building to create a cinderblock pharmacy were thwarted by the Montclair Historical Commission. Today, the restaurant features much of the building’s original details as well as a historically sensitive restoration including salvaged woods and rescued bricks from the building’s basement. in addition to Noodle Central and Simply Zen, the building also houses office space and a Weight Watchers meeting location on its upper floors. The big bonus — an adjacent parking lot and space on Gates Street for a full outdoor seating area when winter is just a memory. Besides the menu, Noodle Central has an area designated for a noodle “chef” who will make noodles by hand as well as a Japanese tepanyaki grill. Open everyday for lunch and dinner (dinner only on Sunday). — Liz George
Noodle Central, 292 Bloomfield Ave., Montclair (corner of Gates & Bloomfield Aves) 973-744-2800