Those tuned in to the valley’s ever-growing food scene will not be surprised to learn hospitality industry veteran David Lu has opened Napa’s first noodle shop.
Additionally, local foodies will be pleased to discover a meal at Eight Noodle Shop can be had without taking out a second mortgage on the house.
Making use of the Chinese characters for the number eight — which portends good luck in the Chinese culture — Lu opened Eight Noodle Shop just over a month ago in the intimate indoor/outdoor Clay Street structure that formerly housed Mini Mango — which moved to new Main Street digs.
Lu had been working on another project — an Asian-style sports bar with food also in downtown Napa — when the August earthquake struck. When that project was put on hold, Napa developer Michael Holcomb asked Lu if he’d like to take over the Clay Street structure for a noodle shop that he’d envisioned for some time.
“I was always talking about noodles,” Lu said as he prepared for a dinner crowd the other evening. “We thought Mini Mango might keep this location in addition to the new one on Main Street — but when they decided they wouldn’t do that, Michael contacted me. I took over the lease on Nov. 1 and we opened to customers on Dec. 8.”
Born and raised in Taiwan, Lu grew up in the restaurant business when his parents settled in Napa. They opened Lu’s Mongolian Barbecue in the late ‘70s and Lu worked at that restaurant as a young man. Eager to try something new, Lu was hired by Cindy Pawlcyn to wait tables at Mustards Grill. He then helped Giovanni and Donna Scala open Piatti in Yountville, spending four years as a member of the front-of-the-house team.
Lu teamed up with partners Dan Giacalone and chef Marco Ruiz to open Pasta Prego in Napa’s Grapeyard Shopping Center in 1989, adding Fusilli in Fairfield to the portfolio a couple of years later. Lu was also one of the partners opening Saketini in Bel Aire Plaza a decade later.
The Napa restaurateur took a break from running a food and beverage business after getting married. “I have four daughters and I felt I should concentrate on my family,” Lu said. Nevertheless, he didn’t absent himself from the hospitality industry as he spent the past eight years working as a dinner captain at Auberge du Soleil.
Asked why he returned to running a restaurant, Lu said “this is the only thing that I love to do … something that I’ve been involved in my whole life. My kids are older … I’m refreshed … the time was right. It was always my plan to get back into the (restaurant) business. There’s nothing better than working for yourself, even if it does mean some pretty long days.”
Lu intends to open the planned sports bar in downtown Napa later this year “but I thought this was perfect for a ramen shop.” While there are many types of noodles, Lu said Eight Noodle Shop will offer an array of ramen dishes — Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a a meat broth, or occasionally fish or vegetable based — often flavored with soy sauce or miso, topped with pork, beef, seafood, dried seaweed or vegetables.
The focus of the tiny Clay Street kitchen is on both noodles and rice, as the main course options feature both. “We make all the noodles in house,” Lu said of the efforts of executive chef Todd Meyerhofer and sous chef Chris Biard, with whom he worked at Auberge du Soleil.
In addition there are a dozen small appetizer plates that range in price from $4 for house made kimchee to $5 for a pickles plate, seaweed salad or charred, salted edamame. Sliced and spiced pork belly bossam, a classic Korean dish, is served in a rice-strewn lettuce cup tarted up with oyster sauce. Confit duck leg tucked into a steamed bun gets a kick from house made Sriracha.
A sweet chili sauce takes Korean fried chicken wings up a notch, while tasty tuna tartar benefits from a ponzu sauce and squid ink cracker “utensils.” Crispy fried squid gets added flavor from pickled chilies and a Vietnamese aioli. For something completely different try hay roasted beets with pistachios and whipped tofu. Prices for these small plates range from $7 to $11.
Rice offerings at present are Chicken and the Egg, featuring both named ingredients along with pickled vegetables, a soy-based sauce and the main attraction. Bibimbap, one of the iconic dishes of Korea, is a a bowl full of sticky rice topped with shrimp, several vegetables and a fried egg. They are offered at $12 and $16, respectively.
Intensely flavored broth-based noodle dishes ($12-$16) include vegetarian ramen with a variety of mushrooms and fresh vegetables, pork belly and pulled pork ramen, ajitsuke (marinated soft-boiled egg) and mustard greens, plus shoyu ramen with beef short rib and bone marrow plus a slow cooked egg.
The kitchen also offers a trio of distinct desserts, all $7 — Okinawan doughnuts with yuzu curd, miso butterscotch panna cotta and slices of coconut rice pudding rolled in brick dough served with Thai basil ice cream.
An ingratiating service staff — which includes owner Lu most of the time — will eagerly explain the dishes as well as the handful of beer and wine offerings to pair with food choices.
Located at 1408 Clay St., Napa, Eight Noodle Shop is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. For reservations and additional information, call 707-637-4198.