Last week, a few friends of mine took me to Joe’s Noodle House in Rockville. Now i should say up front that I am far from a connoisseur of Chinese food and about as adventurous in the domain as the average American (i.e. my favorite dish is usually fried rice and General Tso’s chicken). Nonetheless, my friends had urged me to go for several months and given that we had made plans to watch a movie nearby, I was game.
Joe’s itself is as they say in great literature, “an unassuming hole in the wall” in a typical suburban DC strip mall off Rockville pike. Yet though the atmosphere is simple, it is at once fresh and inviting, as if you were entering a local joint in Shanghai where you know the food is fresh and the service is friendly. The menu is expansive and comprehensive across the major categories of protein and vegetables and frankly can be overwhelming for the unitiated. Fortunately for me I was with a few regulars and in the discussion on the car ride up, it was decided that one dish for sure would be the “mapo doufu” a Szechuan tofu specialty known for its lip numbing Szechuan peppercorns (more on that later). Joe’s is ostensibly a Szechuan establishment and not the tabasco, Siracha style Szechuan that it passes for “spicy food” in most American restaurants. I knew that spicy would be baked, indigeneous to the dishes I was eating.
After some deep consultation, we decided upon the following for our hungry party of four:
As the “tofu semi-virgin” (or tofu skeptic, depending on your perspective) the group insisted that I try the mapo dofufu first. I have to admit that I only intended to have a few bites to be polite and then move on to the other dishes. But after a few bites and the numbness on my upper lip combined with the firmness of the quality tofu turned me into a convert and one bite became a second helping much to the joy of my hosts who had successfully turned another soul to the Tofu side.
The fish was tasty, though I personally didn’t care much for the gelatin cubes that accompanied the spicy sauce. Honestly, I think my palate was completely confused by the Szechuan peppercorns so I am probably not well equipped to give a definitive appraisal of the fish. The green beans were excellent and inspired me to try cooking crisp green beans in season with garlic at home. Finally, the eggplant which was high quality combined with particularly fresh basil made for another great dish and my hosts noted that though the eggplant with basil was a first order for them, it is likely to be a mainstay in their ordering repertoire.
All in all, I have to give Joe’s four stars for a top quality Chinese meal at a decent price especially for larger groups. I will definitely be back and in the future I may even get one of their signature rewards cards as well so I can enjoy more food for less money :)