The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Stylish Zoba Needs Zing

By John DiGilio in Food on Jan 19, 2012 8:00PM

When it comes to noodles, Chicago is swimming in semolina. Noodle bars are plentiful and pasta dishes are prevalent on the menus of many of the non-Asian-inspired restaurants. Noodles have truly become one of the prime choices for our city's comfort food seekers. With such stiff competition, a restaurant has to really work hard to set itself apart from other pasta purveyors. No one wants to be, shall we say, the wet noodle in the bunch. Evanston's Zoba Noodle Bar is a promising new addition to the area's noodle scene, but one that needs a little more polish before it shines.

Zoba features an extensive menu of noodle dishes culled from all over Asia. There are Thai, Chinese, and Japanese specialties with offerings for meat eaters and vegetarians alike. The interior of the restaurant is spacious, bright, and decorated in a fun noodle-inspired theme. Zoba's claim to fame is that they offer homemade noodles, based on a secret recipe. Unfortunately, those special noodles are only available at an up-charge and not for all noodle dishes on the menu. Granted, they are only a dollar extra. But if your homemade noodles are going to make your dishes stand out, why not make them standard? With most of the entrees priced at under $10, Zoba could add that extra charge in with little economic effect.

We stopped in on a chilly weeknight, hoping to give the homemade noodles a try. As brightly lit as the interior was, the restaurant was empty. Still, we took our seats, ignored the annoyingly loud fish tank that was situated above our table, and set to ordering a few appetizers and entrees. We started with an order of steamed veggie dumplings. They were plump, delicious, and much larger than we expected. Hot and savory, the dumplings were the highlight of the meal. For entrees, we ordered from the Thai and Japanese specialties on the "homemade noodles" list. What we forgot to do was specify that we actually wanted the homemade noodles. So the first fail was mostly ours. However, that our server did not ask puts some of the blame on Zoba as well. The Pad See Ewe and Yaki Udon dishes that we ordered were both plated beautifully and delivered piping hot to our table. Sadly, both were somewhat bland and tasted similarly sweet. Yes, they were satisfying. But in light of the promise of standout, homemade noodles, we were left unfulfilled.

Overall, our experience at Zoba was decent - the problem was one of expectations. When a restaurant sets a high bar with promises of something special, it needs to deliver. If you are going to advertise homemade noodles, you better be ready and eager to serve them up. The only mention of them was on the menu and if, like us, you miss the note about them being by request and at an extra charge, you miss out. If patrons are missing out on something really good, that fail falls entirely in the lap of the restaurant. Zoba may want to rethink its approach to getting those special noodles where they'll have the most impact . . . on the plates of its customers.

Zoba is located at 1565 Sherman Avenue in Evanston.