When Noodle Theory opened on Claremont Avenue in Rockridge eight years ago, it quickly became a go-to spot for noodle dishes prepared with quality ingredients like Niman Ranch beef and pork and locally grown vegetables. There’s a line out the door every day at lunch, and the restaurant also does a brisk takeout business. Chef-owner Louis Kao has just opened a second location, called Noodle Theory Provisions, which is three times the size of the original space, and with a full bar.
Last night was the soft opening, and by 7:15pm all tables were spoken for and a waiting line had begun to form. That bodes well for the new project, designed to both carry on with Kao’s signature dishes — ground pork in spicy bean sauce and dry-sautéed spicy green beans among them — as well as allow him to branch out and try some new recipes.
The “provisions” part of the space hasn’t fully emerged yet. There were a few beverages (teas and sodas) on the shelf near the entrance, but the idea is that the area will be stocked with fixin’s to cook great noodle dishes at home, including homemade stock and noodles.
For now, the restaurant is largely sticking to its tried and true recipes, and we enjoyed several last night. The aforementioned spicy ground pork, made with Niman Ranch meat, is moderately spiced with Chinese bean paste and placed atop chewy wheat noodles. In other words, it isn’t tossed, so you can control the ratio of meat to pasta.
Noodle soups are another of the kitchen’s strong suits. I ordered the spicy Niman Ranch beef udon in a coconut-lime curry. But I asked for rice noodles to see if the restaurant was accommodating of gluten-free diners. I was told that rice noodles could be substituted for wheat in any of the dishes, and the wide, papardelle-style rice noodles that came with the dish were a good choice: the right balance of chewy and sauce-clinging. None of the noodles on the menu are currently homemade, but our server said the chef hopes to undertake that project soon.
The other dry noodle dish we tried, a vegetarian tofu-based stir-fry with garlic sauce was hearty and mildly spiced.
Both side dishes we ordered were perfect. Dry-sautéed string beans were the spiciest dish on the table, redolent of that same chile paste; and the chicken karaage was a huge hit with both kids. We puzzled for awhile over the sauce accompaniment next to a squiggle of sriracha. Was it baba ghanoush? That didn’t really make sense in terms of the restaurant concept, but it was smoky and earthy, so our first guess. In fact, it was a bonito aioli, a brilliant concoction that would work with any number of fried appetizers.
The large space is warmly lit, sending a golden hue out into the street. The new place has a full bar, and my El Niño — mezcal with grapefruit juice, Thai basil and cayenne — was a delightful way to sit out the rain.
Noodle Theory Provisions
5849 San Pablo Ave. [Map]
Oakland, CA 94608
Ph: (510) 595-6988 (Claremont Ave. location)
Hours: Daily, 11:30am-2:30pm and 5-9:30pm (lunch service begins March 14, currently serving dinner only)
Facebook: Noodle Theory
Price range: $-$$ (entrees $10-$15)