If ever a friend or acquaintance visits the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly the East side of the bay, I tell them that the search for cheap and cheerful meals stop at Lilly's Chinese restaurant on Monterey Avenue in Berkeley. It is the apotheosis of quality: unpretentious service, heaping plates of delicious, fresh food, comfortable seating, and the constant buzz of happy chatter. When I am in Bloomington, I regularly dream of their crisp scallion pancakes, roast duck (a plate that must keep local cardiologists buying Tuscan villas -- but worth every bite), and vegetarian dumplings. But when visiting in the summertime, my visit is incomplete without a bowlful of their noodles.\nLilly's is where I learned the art of noodle eating. A party of one, I would often share a big round table with the mostly Asian lunch crowd. I quickly caught on to the slouch-and-slurp technique, which is both socially acceptable and efficient. When starving, I get the "special soup": a delicious bowlful of shredded pork, preserved mustard greens, sliced garlic and ginger, and thin egg noodles. Otherwise, noodles in a delicate broth with tender greens or delicate wontons, spiked with some chili sauce from the table, is enough to make me giddy with pleasure.\nOn especially lucky visits, I get a bowl of the owner's (Ying's) "yummy noodles." "Yummy noodles" only show up on the specials menu every fortnight or so, and are never exactly the same twice. While the overwhelming majority of Lilly's menu is, and always has been, traditional Chinese, Ying's "yummy noodle" specials have an undeniable Californian flair: a twist of lime here, a handful of corn there, and a sprinkle of mint or basil where you never expected it.\nThank heavens for such twists on the ordinary. Each order of yummy noodles is the product of Ying's fancy, inspired by the fresh produce offerings at Monterey Market just across the street. On one visit, yummy noodles might be a handful of julienned baby vegetables and egg noodles in a gingery broth; the next time, a platter of wide, flat, chow fun noodles spiked with chilies and cilantro; and every once in a while, especially in late summer, it is a chilled noodle salad, with the vibrant flavors of lemon, lime, mint or sesame. \nWhat follows is my own version of late-summer "yummy noodles." At the risk of sounding like a character on "Dawson's Creek," they are "awesome." I think if you try them, you'll agree with my word choice. But if you make it for guests, be prepared for a dilemma:. Should you allow them to think that you have performed an extraordinary culinary feat, or should you let them on to its secret simplicity?
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