Norwalk’s Good Hope has ramen that’s worth the wait
Good Hope is a newcomer to the dumpling, pho and ramen competition in Fairfield County. Literally, there is no such contest, no medals, blue ribbons or towering trophies given to those who make miracles of these popular pan-Asian dishes. Maybe there should be, in which case I would like to nominate Good Hope for the prize.
It is strange to think that a maybe a dozen years ago, non-Asians had never heard of pho or ramen or dumplings. Ramen seemed to enter the dictionary as a cheap just-add-water meal for college kids, dumplings were something you found beside chicken at Cracker Barrel. Pho, a total mystery and unpronounceable to boot.
Good Hope gave me high hopes when I parked my car in front of it. It looked modest, with no towering doorway statues like you see at P.F. Chang’s. There were no glaring neon signs, no hyped-up superlatives on the menu and clientele inside looked like they knew a thing or two about what they had ordered.
Before I even tried the food, I was entranced by an elderly Asian lady sitting with her grandson. She had taken the wooden disposable chopsticks from their wrapper and was rubbing them together vigorously like a Boy Scout trying to start a fire. She was making sure that the child would not get any splinters when he ate. What a great idea!
Good Hope is small. I would guess there are 10 small tables inside. The decor is minimal, the tone quiet. There were families with children, quiet well-behaved children who did not need paper tablecloths to scribble on with crayons. Many of the children were eating with chopsticks, a skill that even at my extremely advanced age, I still have not mastered. Because I do not own a scientifically calibrated feng shui monitor, I can only guess it would register pretty blissed out.
When I ate here, the service was slow. To a restaurant critic, slow service means one of two things: 1) the kitchen has no idea what it is doing and orders get confused, or 2) each dish is carefully and singularly composed and takes time. At Good Hope. I think it is the latter. Much of the menu offers exotic dishes that you will not see elsewhere and these dishes take time to build properly.
Here are some of some of the unusual items: Bean Curd with Crab and Mashed Salted Egg. Flounder with Chinese Pickle, York Buns, Octopus Balls, Celery Beef Dumplings, and for dessert, Iced Jelly (topped with your choice of raisin, haw flakes or rice bubble). Hot fudge is not an option.
As readers of this column know by now, I am a sucker for menus with misspellings. That is to say menus from little “mom and pop” places. The reason I like misspelling is that it means that nobody from “corporate” fact-checked it. The menu was not voted on by an executive committee, nor was it the result of expensively orchestrated test groups. You can be sure McDonald’s or Coca-Cola would never let any misspelled product go public. Misspelled menus mean that what is offered is what the chef knows how to cook, even if he can’t spell it correctly. Good Hope gets extra brownie points for offering customers a can of “Die Cola” alongside your “Chiken Pho.”
But lets get serious a moment. Is the food here any good? The one-word answer is yes. Because I am not an authority on Octopus Balls, or Bean Curd with Mashed Egg, I ordered food that I have eaten before: pho, ramen and dumplings. Pretty much every Asian eatery has dumplings. They all have some generic filling, are either pan fried or steamed and served with a spicy soy dipping sauce on the side. At Good Hope, there is a choice of seven varieties of dumplings. All are somewhat small in size but the fillings are not just a blur of unknown ingredients. The beef dumplings have celery, the pork dumplings have chives or Szechuan Chili sauce, they all look and taste distinctly different and my recommendation is to ask the chef for a dozen and let him mix them up.
For my main course, I got the Pork Tonkotsu Ramen. Like all ramen I have ever encountered, it is a very hearty portion. Like pho, ramen always leaves the eater feeling satiated and comforted. The Pork Tonkotsu was a fried pork cutlet submerged in a delicious broth of bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, sliced egg and scallions.
Good Hope has an intriguing “after 5.30 p.m.” menu with some exotic specialties that are worth a visit. Some sound rather mysterious, like “Chopped chicken with dry sprouts and six folded buns” or “Bean Curd with Crab and mashed Salted Egg.” I have never seen these on any other Asian menu in our area.
Make sure you order Bubble Tea with your meal. Like anchovies or cilantro, it is a love it or hate it thing. It is a mildly flavored milkshake floating with large gooey balls of cooked tapioca (yes, like the stuff in pudding kids called “fish eyes”). I got the Mango Bubble Tea and sucked it all up through a wide special plastic straw designed for the swollen tapioca pearls. I, for one, am in the pro-“fish eye” camp.
Good Hope Dumpling and Ramen House
172 Main St., Norwalk; 203-957-8881
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, co-authored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern.