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Ain't Got That Swing

Pote and Alisa Pruettiangkura's restaurant is a labor of love--more labor than love to us.
Tom Jenkins

Here's a twist: accidentally stumbling into the restaurant business and finding love. Usually the love comes first, spawned by the illusion of glamour inherent in the prospect of running your own canteen. A short time after the buzz wears off, these once spellbound operators start tearing their hair out by the fistfuls, the illusion popped by permit hassles, equipment failures and the manager who elopes to Reno with the cocktail waitress. And we all know how glamorous the hairless are--except for maybe Sinead O'Connor.

A few years ago Pote and Alisa Pruettiangkura jettisoned their straight jobs and bought Masami, a Japanese/sushi restaurant in Richardson. Both were steeped in technology: she with Burlington Northern Railroad, he with Texas Instruments where he worked on video-chip technology. The results of the latter are there on the wall, in the private dining room, projected onto a huge screen that's unrolled down like a mutant paper towel. The screen soaks up images splashed from a cutting-edge projector driven by the very chip. The image assembles in tiny segments, like a picture squeezed through a porch screen and imprinted onto the wall.

They discovered they loved the restaurant business--hassles, long hours and all. They wanted more. And with their background they were bound to breed acres of eclecticism. One of the plots is Noodleswing Thai Café in Flower Mound. The menu headings sweat whimsy: attitude adjusters (appetizers), twirlers (noodles), slurpers (noodle soups), curious curries, cutie pies (desserts) and so on.

Such headings lead to dishes like this: Nutty Professor. The professor is a dish composed of a flock of peanuts, some crushed and ground into cinders while the rest are pureed into 40-weight. To this is added stir-fried broccoli, bean sprouts, carrot slivers and a protein choice (chicken, beef, pork or tofu). But you'd never know these additions existed. They're all permanently embedded in the unctuous and sweet Skippy tar pits. Not much left for culinary distinction after succumbing to this fate. In an Atkins-free world you would put this professor between two slices of Wonder Bread and have a hell of a peanut butter sloppy Joe.

More interesting is the fish cake tower, something you might cut and distribute at a wedding between pelicans. Patties of pureed fish are fried into poker chips and then stacked between layers of sliced cucumber. A sprig of cilantro wavers like a huge hat feather from the crowning disc. The cakes are spongy and slightly rubbery in that classic fish-cake way that makes them oddly addicting. But here's the thing: They're cold.

This is not unlike the Noodleswing décor. Vibe: '70s rec room chic meets new-century shabby tech. Furnishings are sparse and blond on blond: light hardwood floors and bleached Formica tables hugged by blue plastic chairs. Sheer white curtains spray opacity over the front windows while a curvaceous counter near the rear, clad in retrograde wood paneling, swaddles a glass display case containing beverages. The counter rests dormant in the shadows.

The room is near empty, save for the small clusters of people who hover near the couches in the front waiting for to-go orders. So it's odd the service is so plodding and listless. We sit idle for 17 minutes, agitating the menus. Two servers lock onto our glares but miss the cues until we summon.

We load the torpedo tubes with an appetizer sampler, doubting they'll ever return to take commands for reinforcements. Like most things here, the sampler is visually compelling. It has tall things (chicken and shrimp on sticks planted vertically) near the back with three sauces dribbled into ramekins posted in the middle. The front holds a loose string of barely warm "swing dumplings." Crispy spring rolls have fuzz on the outside, which doesn't seem to help them preserve heat. Golden triangles of tofu are cool, too, which is compounded by the fact that they're spongy and a little soggy, spritzing fluid with each fork depression. Chicken satay is cold and dry.

The deep-fried whole snapper is different: just bones. At least this is how it appeared at first glance. It's buried under a mound of carrot slivers, red and green bell pepper shards, and cleaved broccoli florets. Bulldoze some of the vegetables aside--well stir-fried, swamped in a tasty chili garlic sauce--and the beast rears its homely head. Then fear grips: Have they delivered to us a snapper skeleton? The head is a bone home to a pair of shriveled eyeballs; the body, a rib comb after scavengers have had their way. This is not the typical whole fried fish, frozen in a taxidermic-worthy fry pose, mouth slightly open, crusted eyes looking wistfully skyward, tail curved to the right, gills slightly flexed. This cadaver has no crispness. The body is dull gray, with deep brown stripes. The meat is divided into sections, as if the fish had louvers installed into its flanks. Take a bite. Instead of searing your inner lip with fryer-fresh crisp before creamy sweet flesh steams blisters into your gums, this barely lukewarm fish lulls the tongue into a catnap. Yet the rest of the mouth is forced to wake because those cold louvers are stiff and chewy, like fish jerky.

This is the central Noodleswing affliction: indecisive temperature control. Dishes are neither hot, nor chilled, but locked in some temperate purgatory. Could be that Noodleswing is fraught with cutting-edge social consciousness, cooking its dishes in a solar oven in the afternoon before storing them in recycled water bottle thermoses until deployed, then chilling the appropriate dishes via heat pump powered by a recumbent bicycle before storing them in recycled newspaper. Noodleswing's hot and cold dishes are unisex, which has a certain thematic ring to it when you think about it.

Spicy calamari salad is a pool of lime juice bathing chilies, scallions and cilantro. It also has those peculiar calamari cones: cylinders of white squid meat tapered at one end with snow-tire tread nubs over the surface. The salad is warm. The squid is fishy. The mouth winces.

Salmon panang breaks new ground: overachieving mediocrity. The narrow pink strip is cold. It is raw in the center. We know this because we ordered the panang on the side, dissecting the meat before it could be deluged with sauce. There it is, a bright orange-red pool, a creamy rose rim of coconut milk hugging the edge of the bowl. Onions, bell peppers and zucchini break the surface like bobbing pool toys. The centerpiece is nothing more than a chilly dull fish in the pink. Pour on the panang. You'll find yourself experiencing this through a gossamer of creamy zing and zest, a lumpy pool of complex flavors. It's like lovemaking with pills, lotions and counterfeit passion.

From mediocrity follows tragedy: shrimp pad Thai. If there is a set of seven deadly pad Thai sins, the foremost is this: Never permit the noodles to bind together. Throw them in the Maytag with a dryer sheet if you must to keep the noodle strands from clinging. Once the noodles are ripped apart with sticks and fork tines, the flavor emerges as a cloud of understated bitterness; no hint of sweetness offset by a tangy breeze, just the pungency of scorched nuts.

Cup some of this pad Thai between your palms, press together firmly and you have a worthy baseball. Swing! 2715 Cross Timbers Road, No. 328, Flower Mound. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday & Sunday; open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 5-9 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$

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miles
Noodleswing Thai Cafe

2713 Cross Timbers Road
Lewisville, TX 75028

972-355-9799

www.noodleswingthaicafe.com


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