A children's show on PBS was to blame for the scolding, the finger pointing, the furrowed brow and disapproving gaze cast on me like a long, angry shadow. Scrawled repeatedly down the long wall before us, in vivid Crayola technicolor, was the first word I'd ever written. Though I could not yet read, the four letters had been pounded into my brain thanks to a bouncy tune sung by my cheery peers. The word was, "ZOOM," and it would forever haunt my mother's nightmares.
Doodles is the kind of restaurant that brings out that kid in me, the one yearning to pick up a big, fat crayon again and run it along a white, virgin canvas, knowing that I'm free to do so without fear of reproach. The Asian eatery, which invites its patrons to draw on its paper tablecloths, has been firmly rooted in Hyde Park soil for as long as I can remember, serving up its solidly reliable and particularly noodly Chinese and Thai dishes.
Gone are the crowds who'd once packed into the small place; most diners have long since moved on to trendier, more popular fare. The obscurity and anonymity that time affords restaurants like Doodles is borne out of a waning interest, not the quality of the cuisine. That there are also now a dozen or so competing Asian restaurants in the Oakley and Hyde Park area does Doodles no favors. But for some of us yearning to find a quieter spot to enjoy a good meal, these facts make visiting Doodles a sweet deal.
Still, the restaurant hasn't exactly become a forgotten haven for misfits and senior citizens. It caters to an eclectic group of all ages, juggles a steady stream of take-out orders and continues to make subtle updates to its menu.
The restaurant's east and south walls of glass offer gleaming light cascading down on tables covered in heavy white paper and armed with crayons. Hanging on one wall near the cash register are some notable customer drawings, some simple and cartoonish, others as intricate and as colorful as a Monet landscape.
We stopped in for our customary appetizer round of spicy shrimp wontons, served with vibrant green, steamed broccoli and a sweet and tangy dipping sauce. Within five minutes of sitting down, our first "doodle" had already defiled the tablecloth.
The appetizer was simple but satisfying: the broccoli wasn't overcooked, still offering resistance against a fork. The wontons were blanketed in a light sauce, then topped with crushed peanuts and a gentle dusting of scallions.
Finishing up a crude drawing of a fluffy cat head popping out the top of a tall vase, I ordered my Doodles "usual:" the Thai-inspired Fiery Flat Rice Noodles, spice level of 8 (out of 10), stir-fried in a piquant sauce with chicken, strips of red pepper and green chilis.
My girlfriend ordered the Taiwanese Style Rice Noodles, what the menu describes as a "classic" Taiwanese dish, we call a homage to Pad Thai: thin rice noodles stir-fried with strips of chicken in a "light shallot sauce," topped with crushed peanuts and cilantro and served with a slice of lime.
When our entrees arrived, we had already filled the tablecloth with cat heads, indecipherable scribbles and my typical sinking ship with the words, "I'll never let go" popping out of the abruptly angled stern. The ship is a customary doodle of mine, not intended as a metaphor for the restaurant itself.
Both of our dishes were ample in size, richly colored and not overly oily, which is a frequent stir-fry faux pas at other, newer Thai restaurants. The flavors of the entrees were equal parts light and bold and fresh, exhibiting a confident consistency we've come to expect and appreciate from Doodles.
If you're looking for a respite from the restaurants currently embroiled in popularity contests, grab a crayon, sketch out some time, and enjoy a plate of noodles at Doodles.