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Robert Sietsema

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A First Look at Yiwanmen on Mott Street

Critic Robert Sietsema tries the noodles, dumplings, bao, and bing at this newcomer

When the editor of a glossy food mag sent a text message about a new noodle shop on Mott, I was on my bike in minutes. Yes, I know we have plenty of places slinging the hand-slapped noodles of Lanzhou in a dozen predictable soups. But this place apparently tendered Sichuan-style noodles, and the idea of a peppercorn lip-burn on a cold day in January is eminently appealing.

Yiwanmen opened a month ago just north of Grand Street on the edge of Little Italy. It describes itself as "Chongqing noodle," in reference to the city-state in southwest China that looks a lot like Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry. Sichuan lies to the west and Hunan to the Southeast, which explains why my bowl of Chongqing red oil noodle ($6.75) arrived swimming in chili oil, heaped with cilantro and Chinese celery, then lashed with Sichuan peppercorns. Ground pork studded the depths, while the noodles were soft and spaghetti-like.

Robert Sietsema

The regular menu offers 12 noodle bowls — including hot and spicy intestine noodles and another called hot braised beef noodle — but there are options aside from chili-oil hot. To please the more tender-tongued, there's a mild broth with shrimp and pork wontons (a neighborhood staple for nearly a century) and another that looks a lot like Japanese ramen, only with rice noodles. I went again the next day and tried the wonton soup and it was good but not as good as Wu’s Wonton King. A couple of free-standing dumpling selections include the wonderful, thick-skinned fish and spinach dumplings.

Robert Sietsema

The wall menu lists daily specials, some of which dabble further in Sichuan cuisine, like a dish of spicy shredded potatoes served cold. You’ll also find bao and bing on the menu, two Northern Chinese delicacies perfect for snacking. The bao — folded-over white steamed buns popularized here in the East Village by David Chang — arrive stuffed with things like pork belly and beef, the former more desirable, though the filling included more pickles than pork. The jian bing ($5 to $8) — street crepes with egg outside and hoisin inside — can be had with eight different fillings, including the crispy fritter listing, which most resembles the version found on the streets of Beijing.

Robert Sietsema

The dining room has plenty of communal seating and is decorated with some very agreeable, low-budget murals. You’ll probably find the food very appealing. 150 Mott St., 212-966-8998

Robert Sietsema

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