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Oodles of Noodles


by Susan Hamilton & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & t's a simple food, really -- just wheat, rice, mung beans or yams, mixed with liquid, then rolled, cut or extruded into ropes or tubes or squiggles. But the humble noodle has become a staple food of cultures from Vietnam to Italy.

Where they began, however, is contested. Some historians say images of noodle-making were first found on Etruscan tomb decorations about 400 B.C. in what is now Italy. Others cite the Jerusalem Talmud's record of boiled noodles from about the 5th century A.D., saying that Arab traders probably introduced pasta to Sicily. Still others report that the Chinese were eating a noodle-like food as early as 3000 B.C. Regardless of all the debate about noodles' origins, they remain popular around the world: You just can't go wrong with pasta.

Wild Noodles, a fast-casual restaurant with roots in the Southwest, celebrates pasta's international flair. One Wild Noodles restaurant opened in Spokane Valley last fall, followed by a north-side location at the beginning of this year. Arizona chef Eddie Matney, a culinary innovator known for adding bold and savory twists to classic dishes, created Wild Noodles' menu. What's also innovative is the mix of Asian, Italian and American pasta dishes on the menu.

I'd eaten at Wild Noodles shortly after their initial opening in the Valley and was impressed with the teriyaki stir-fry's blend of udon noodles, crunchy fresh veggies, tasty shrimp and very flavorful teriyaki sauce. I wanted to introduce my family to this new dining trend, and wondered how the second location would measure up.

On a recent Friday evening, the Whitworth-area Wild Noodles was buzzing but not too crowded. Waiting in line gave us the opportunity to choose among the variety of dishes with noodles, rice, veggies, meats (chicken, beef or shrimp), tofu and sauces. Before we knew it, we'd put in our orders for Italian and Asian noodle dishes and a rice bowl. As we made our way past the open kitchen, flames shot up dramatically from the numerous wok stations. Taking a seat at one of the few open tables, we didn't have to wait long for our dinners to arrive.

My daughter's lasagna in a bowl ($7.25) is a Wild Noodles signature dish. It marries wide lasagna noodles with a 12-hour marinara sauce, ricotta cheese and fennel Italian sausage. "Definitely a winner," my daughter announced. Its savory sauce, flavorful sausage and comforting cheese were blended perfectly. My husband, always a peanut fan, chose the Bangkok peanut noodle dish with shrimp, rice noodles, veggies and peanut sauce ($8). This is clearly an item that works. The noodles offer a good foundation and texture -- soft yet chewy. Plenty of crisp veggies, nicely cooked shrimp and a subtle peanut sauce bring diversity to this dish. A sprinkling of peanuts and cilantro add to the flavors. My husband's only complaint was that he would have liked more of the yummy peanut sauce.

My spicy garlic shrimp rice bowl ($8.50), promised tempura-battered shrimp with garlic and onions, saut & eacute;ed in a spicy chili vinaigrette, served over rice. There was a nice contrast of flavors and textures going on -- sweet, spicy, crunchy and soft. But I would have preferred more veggies than the onions and bits of purple cabbage. The rice was cooked just right and offered a complement to the spicy sauce.

Next time I go to Wild Noodles, I want to try the signature orange chicken with sweet-and-sour sauce. Or maybe I'll have the Sonoran pasta with chipotle cream sauce, caramelized corn and green chilies. My daughter wants to try Wild Noodle's mac-and-cheese with chili flakes and crouton crumbles. Sticky sesame chicken with teriyaki sauce and chicken Marsala are battling for my husband's culinary affections.

But we probably won't order the Wonton S'mores ($3.45) again. As Wild Noodles' only dessert offering, it's an interesting concept, but it just doesn't really work. Crispy fried wontons are piled high and drizzled with marshmallow and chocolate sauce. Salty and sweet are hard to combine and get right, especially with dessert. It's almost like dipping potato chips in chocolate. But my daughter loved it, and I noticed a couple digging into their wonton s'mores before their entrees.

Wild Noodles is appealing because it offers a variety of culinary traditions, fresh food and fast service that feels more like a full-service restaurant. And the d & eacute;cor's desert Southwest colors of sage, oranges and browns add to the bistro feel.

Wild Noodles, 10208 N. Division, open daily 11 am-9 pm. Call 465-9175.

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