Many years ago, when the edges of Union Square were still ragged with homeless kids and civil disobedience, there was a cold corner of extant Communism where we sought refuge from the world outside; this place was called Republic. This was where we met after work and where we went for noodles. On the day of the blackout, after a subterranean march with my subway mates to Astor Place, I hiked to Union Square and waited for Malcolm, whom I never did find (because he was trapped in an elevator), but I did encounter a few aquaintances and made friends from strangers on that hot, lingering afternoon. It is a nexus where things seemed a little brighter in the big city all alone, though I don’t know why. When in doubt on a brisk fall day I hurried toward Republic.
I was ruminating on their noodles last night, after a somewhat disappointing experience at Pom’s Thai Restaurant, wondering just what made them so amazing. Certainly, there is comfort in the eternal bowl of broth and carbohydrates. Certainly, there is healing. Spicy Coconut Chicken was my go-to order and I was never disappointed in its warmth or flavor. The atmosphere was reminiscent of a gulag cafeteria, but with meaner matrons. There was a dun-colored din hovering over communal tables and Mao posters flanking the walls. There was absolutely nothing remotely cozy about the space and yet it was infinitely welcoming. The chairs and bar metallic as the metronomic beating heart of a half -sentient robot from the not too distant future. But I loved it.
I will not remember nearly as fondly my noodle dish last night from Pom’s. On our first visit, while basking in the reflected glow of Malcolm’s whorehouse heat, I muddled through a weak Tom Kha Gai and a remarkably sober drunken noodle. It wasn’t bad Thai food. I had truly, deeply bad Thai food in Rockland last January. There the soup was sewery and the curry rank. This was merely mediocre. And I was happy to go back to Thai Taste after an Old School evening of errands in South Portland, to make Malcolm happy and to try again to navigate the extensive menu and emerge victorious. My plan of attack was based on the noodle theory. The noodle theory clearly states that everything is better when drowned in soup, when slurped from a deeply concave spoon. It may have been disproven.
I selected egg noodles, crispy duck, five spice broth (medium) without peanuts. The broth was the watery link, and pulled down the other elements with it to a shallow grave. I will say that it was faintly aromatic with chopped cilantro and parsley and every other ladle was almost nearly delicious. But there were also odd salty, dishwater tastes that just weren’t, well, good. After a few failed attempts to savor the dish as a whole, I resorted to twisting up the noodles and crunching on the duck sans broth. Those other elements were satisfying and rich. Bloated with regret like a senator at Scores, I drove home in the drizzle, dreaming of other bowls in distant cities. I thought about Republic and all it represented, as I exhort all of you to Think Noodles.