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St. Louis’ sixth ramen-focused restaurant, Nudo House, will open in Creve Coeur in early 2017. While ramen has been a certified food fascination on the coasts for several years now, it is safe to say it has finally taken root in the Midwest. According to Sauce Magazine’s Managing Editor Catherine Klene, “it has taken a lot for people to understand that ramen is not just what you ate in college.”
“It is not the hard blocks of ramen noodles and the flavor packets and there’s definitely no two minutes in the microwave,” Klene said. “It is a time consuming process and it is difficult to do it well and do it correctly. Chefs are taking the time to understand how to do it well before launching a full restaurant.”
That is certainly the case for Nudo House co-owners Marie-Anne Velasco and Qui Tran. Velasco, a chef known for her work in fine dining kitchens like the Ritz-Carlton and Chase Park Plaza, and Tran, co-owner of Mai Lee restaurant in Brentwood and certified “King of Pho,” teamed up over a shared love of the perfect noodle and an almost academic interest in the art of ramen.
Ramen, a traditional Japanese soup dish, mixes noodles, meat-based broth and toppings such as meat, seaweed, egg, green onions or miso. The dish varies from region-to-region in Japan (Klene likens the amount of varieties to the amount of barbecue types you might find in the U.S.). For example, ramen from northern Japan often includes corn.
That’s not what Velasco and Tran are aiming for with their shop: they are focusing on Tokyo-style ramen, which is considered more mainstream. The restaurant will also serve the Vietnamese soup dish of pho, which Tran is known for.
“For us, our ramen will be very simple,” Tran said. “We’re not going to have 20 ingredients, 10 different ingredients, it is going to be straight-to-the-point.”
That’s good news for picky eaters, who may be turned off by unidentified flavors and ingredients in ramen. Velasco put in quite a bit of work at the beginning of the process of opening the noodle house to learn from the best — that involved traveling to California for intensive scratch noodle work with Sun Noodle and Chef Shigetoshi Nakamura. Through her visits with various ramen shops, she found that simpler = better.
“You can taste what you want to taste instead of having so many different things at the same time,” Velasco said. “One thing that Chef Nakamura, our ramen mentor, taught us was how to extract chicken flavor from the chicken. It is time-consuming but that’s what we’re striving for: getting that clean flavor from each of our ingredients.”
The signature dish at Nudo House will be a pork tonkotsu-style ramen, although there will be other styles (and a vegetarian option as well).
“You’ll have a custardy, soy-based egg and we’ll use marinated pork shoulder, marinated bamboo shoots and the noodles,” Tran said. “We’re talking no more than four ingredients. We want the flavor profiles to be there. Once you sink into it, it will be a huge flavor bomb.”
So how do you know someone is having good ramen?
“They don’t speak,” Tran said. “Their face is planted into the bowl.”
Klene said that was the reaction she saw at a recent Nudo House pop-up at Mai Lee.
“It was just quiet for five minutes at the table because we were stuffing our faces as fast as we could,” Klene said.
This Sound Bites segment is produced as a part of a partnership between Sauce Magazine and St. Louis Public Radio.
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