Fat and skinny. Dimpled. Wavy. All of them dense. You might wonder if I’m talking about my college boyfriends, but in fact I’m talking about the incredible and varied homemade noodles at Fortune Noodle House in Clifton.
After recently indulging in a meal featuring soup, pan-fried noodles and fried rice, I’m sure you’ll feel no regrets spending the evening with chefs Kang and Jin, the head chef and noodle chef, respectively. You know your carbs are made with love when a restaurant dedicates an entire employee just to their production, but here’s the thing: Everything else at Fortune is delicious, too.
Fortune sits on the corner of Calhoun and Clifton streets, perfectly situated for international students at the University of Cincinnati to get a taste of home and for local students to try something new.
The building suffers from somewhat of an identity crisis — it was once a Papa Dino’s pizza parlor and then an Indian restaurant — and, as such, the layout of the place isn’t ideal. There’s no space to stand while you wait for a table when the restaurant is busy — although there is a massive window looking into noodle-making land through which you can peer in fascinated wonder as a lump of fairly average-sized dough transforms into long, sumptuous strings after a series of pounds, stretches and rolls.
There’s also a lonely island of a bar, which the cashier has taken over because Fortune does not serve alcohol. However, none of this impacts the quality of dinner.
My dining partner and I ordered the sliced beef noodle soup ($9.49) and the pan-fried shredded pork noodle ($9.99), plus an order of kimchi fried rice ($7.99) for an appetizer. We also shared a coconut bubble tea ($3.75), because one does not turn down the opportunity to consume bubble tea.
Two main dishes and an appetizer is pretty standard fare for an American duo dining out, but our waiter (our first waiter? we went through a few — whomever was available in the throng, it seemed) gave us a friendly side-eye and said, “You sure?” as if we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. He was right — it was a bit much — but I can’t say I’m sorry. All of it was delicious and we had leftovers that were accidentally abandoned in the fridge at my boyfriend’s house (you’re welcome, Bill).
The soup’s broth was a bit thicker than pho broth and tasted strongly of star anise — that licorice umami flavor in Chinese five spice. The beef slices were very thin and tasted much like roast beef, with thick, gelatinous webbing. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, then think of it as the more posh “marbling” you often hear used to describe steaks.
My favorite part was actually the baby bok choy, generously stirred into the top. It was so flavorful after marinating in the soup but still retained a satisfying crunch. Its freshness brightened the whole bowl.
Overall, the soup was comforting and well-balanced, a little sweet and a little salty. Best of all, the noodles soaked up the broth like a sponge but still maintained a chewy denseness, which is so unique to homemade pasta.
According to co-owner Steven Sun, that distinctive texture is accomplished by making fresh dough mixed with the proper proportion of water to baking soda and then skillfully hand-stretching, folding and twisting it into noodles. Noodles have a long history in Asia, and Sun says they may have a connection with the modern obsession with ramen, although that hasn’t been proven.
“This unique method of noodle-making originates back to 1504 during the Song Dynasty in China,” he says. “Small restaurants serving hand-pulled noodles are very common throughout western China, where they have formed a staple diet for centuries, as well as in northeastern Chinese cities. Among several local styles, Gansu province’s style is the most popular and well-known.”
Sun and his wife are passionate about noodles and were inspired to open Fortune Noodle House after a visit to Philadelphia’s Chinatown six years ago.
“Both my wife Rachel and I are lifetime noodle-lovers,” Sun says. “Rachel makes homestyle fresh noodles at home, and the dream of opening our own noodle house traces back to the super-authentic hand-pulled noodle shop we visited in Philadelphia. It was so authentic and so delicious and successful that it really inspired us to start a similar one in the Cincinnati area.”
The noodles at Fortune did not disappoint, but I kept coming back to the kimchi fried rice. The sour, slightly spicy kimchi was a perfect counter to the heavy, earthy noodles, and the chef left big hunks of kimchi throughout the rice, which was also fried in kimchi juice. Unlike typical fried rice, the grains weren’t dark or greasy.
Even so, our favorite dish ended up being the pan-fried shredded pork noodle. The sauce was thin and flavorful and not overbearing or cloying, and the pork was juicy and plentiful. Even after it was boxed up in take-home containers, I couldn’t stop myself from stealing a forkful here and there.
If you live in Clifton, you’re lucky to be within walking distance of Fortune. If you don’t, it’s worth braving the parking situation to put yourself in a satisfying carb coma with these exceptional noodles.
Fortune Noodle House
GO: 349 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights; CALL: 513-281-1800; INTERNET: fortunenoodles.com; HOURS: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.