My fro-worker Kristina sits just beyond my office door. If I need her attention, I can hypothetically toss a stress ball in her direction with a good chance of nailing her in the back of the head, even with my bad aim. Behavior like this is generally frowned upon, especially since I’m her boss.
This past Tuesday, I didn’t throw anything her way or yell out her name but instead loudly drummed my nails on my desk until she finally turned around (I can be annoying like that). I asked her if she’d even been to Number Nine on Fourth Street, as I’d unwittingly come across their website – their tagline: noodles + beer. She told me that yes, she’d been to Number Nine and added that she’d once offered me an invitation to join her there – didn’t I remember? – for bún, for phở, for bánh mì, to which I’d emphatically said no. But that was Diane of a year and a half ago. Ethnically unadventurous Diane. Bland-palated Diane. These days, I’m new and different. Okay, slightly so.
But Number Nine intrigued me. So the idea soon came for a visit the next day; a treat for those of us unfortunate enough to have to come in to work on Christmas Eve. We labeled it Lunchmas, seven of us taking the ride to Retro Row during our lunch hour – the first to arrive as we were anxious to get away from the office in an effort to speed the day along.
The simple starkness of Number Nine hits you right away when you walk in. Clean and bright and quaint. I love spaces such as theirs, although I commented that it’s really suited for dainty folks. Looking at the benches, I couldn’t imagine bringing my six-six husband there, especially if we couldn’t get a seat along the boothed wall. My husband sitting in the little chairs would be a similar experience to him trying to get comfortable at back-to-school nights in my kids’ early elementary school days when he had to fold himself into the desk chairs meant for 7-year-olds.
Didn’t matter for us. We’re a small bunch so we fit fine – disaster averted. And anyway, we were there to feast, though we couldn’t help but wonder how much better our meal would be if we joined it with a cold beer or glass of wine. Perhaps it was the anger talking, a few of us puffed up with envy at those who had the day off when some of us talked of just ordering a drink anyway – who would find out (I was warned not to take any pictures)? What was the big deal? It was lunch! But when our waitress came to take orders, the most salacious beverage ordered turned out to be the lemonade, noted as pleasingly sour by its taker.
Water it was. We were big talkers. What we lacked in alcoholic beverages, however, we made up for in our dishes, with a full round of appetizers brought in. And I got two entrees just because I was feeling a tad crazed (I didn’t make it halfway through either one).
My take home lesson here was that I need to open myself up to new dishes. This was my first bún endeavor – cold vermicelli rice noodles served with vegetables and a choice of protein (I did five spice chicken and crispy shrimp). As happy as I was for this discovery, I’m bummed that it took me so long to try it – their chicken was beautifully grilled, both sweet and succulent; the crispy shrimp delightful little nuggets that soaked up the juices, the sauces from the noodles; the noodles themselves firm and flavorful. And with bún, you get egg roll! – a crispy, finely fried delight – I might order a dozen or so of these on my next visit. And while the seats might be dainty, their portions were not. My leftover game was on point from this meal. I even held back while enjoying Christmas Eve dinner so that I could return to my remaining noodles in the fridge later in the night.
So who knows what new find I’ll fall in love with in 2015. I’ve yet to go for it fully with Korean or Indian or sushi spots. But I know there is surely another bowl or two or 12 of Number Nine’s bún in my future.
2118 E. 4th Street in Long Beach
(and one other location in Hermosa Beach)