The mystery started this Spring — iloveNoodlecat popped up on Facebook with Clevelanders ‘liking’ it’s enigmatic, noodle-slurping cat without knowing much else about it. A short time later, a youtube video of Noodlecat’s travels started making the rounds, revealing that a Jonathon Sawyer-helmed Japanese-styled noodle shop would open on Public Square this summer.
Well, the wait is finally over. Noodlecat brings its ramen, soba and udon noodles to Cleveland starting today – July 19!
However, before the grand reveal, the restaurant opened its doors early to host Brick & Mortar Pop-Ups – an opportunity for local chefs who don’t have a brick-and-mortar kitchen to have a temporary home, serve up a delicious dinner and preview the new Noodlecat space.
In June, Lee Anne Wong from Bravo’s “Top Chef” hosted the first of the events with Easy Japaneasy – a selection of “fingers, sticks and slurp.” I was sad I had to miss it; however, for photos and reviews of the event, check out a couple of the recaps from Cleveland Foodie and Cleveland Food and Brews.
Thankfully, Scott and I didn’t miss their second Brick & Mortar event with Chris Hodgson from Dim and Den Sum and Hodge Podge food truck fame. I’m a huge fan of his street fare (who isn’t, right?) and was glad NoodleCat made it possible for a sit-down-restaurant experience of his food.
For Hodgson’s Brick & Mortar Pop-Up, the Food Truck Master of the Universe served up 4 courses, each his own twist on the Asian-inspired fare we’ll find at Noodlecat once it opens. But first, we started with an amuse bouche of an oyster flavored with mushroom. Combined with the Boo Sauer (more on that tastiness later!), it provided a fresh, clean taste to kick things off.
After this teaser, the first course was a B.E.L.T. Steam Bun. The dish featured house smoked pork jowl, quail egg, pickled heirloom tomato, and mizuna paired with a sweet soy glaze. The tender, salty jowl, the soft, subtle bun, and the single, hard-boiled quail egg all had distinct tastes and textures. For the first few bites, I enjoyed the flavors separately. However, the way the glaze united everything is what really won me over about this dish.
As much as we liked the first dish, the second dish was something else altogether – rib-eye taco with pickled diakon, carrot, cucumber slaw, and candied ginger. When it came out, the tortilla was overstuffed with the marinated meat — not a problem for Scott and I because we honestly couldn’t get enough of it. The marinated meat was possibly the most tender, richest rib-eye I’ve ever had. The richness in the meat was tempered by the ginger and pickled vegetables. Scott – a self-proclaimed meat-o-phile – went so far as to describe this as the tastiest dish he’s ever had and loved savoring it so much that he joked afterwards that the rest of his life would be a little emptier now that it was gone.
However, Scott’s spirits lifted when I reminded him we still had two more dishes to enjoy. The third course was titled “Orange ‘Chicken’ (kinda, sorta, not really).” Chef Hodgson replaced the traditional chicken with orange-glazed, crispy sweetbreads. It was so well-executed, you could hardly tell the difference. However, my favorite part of the dish was the crispy popped rice. I didn’t really know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by the crispy, almost smoky taste. Each rice kernel popped at every bite. It was an interesting contrast to the stewed mustard greens that accompanied it.
The unlikely texture of the rice was nothing to prepare us for the final dish – by far the most adventurous of the evening for us. Soba noodles and miso broth provided a nice base for the bowl. They were accompanied by a dollop of kimchi slaw, peking quail and a “quick” pickled egg. Along with the kimchi, the pickled skin of the egg provided a very vibrant color to the gray soba noodles. Before breaking the whole quick-cooked egg in the soup broth, I’ll confess the kid in me took a few moments to play with my food. I may have been just a tad bit captivated by poking a hole in the egg with my chopstick and then watching the hole seal itself back up with the liquid interior. Similar to the first course, there were a lot of great distinct tastes in this noodle bowl playing off of the soba base.
After 4 courses that were wildly different from one another (and wild in their own right), we ended with a piece of ginger coated in chocolate. This didn’t just clean the palate nicely but provided a sweet bite of dessert.
To pair with the dinner, guests could order a drink from their beer, cocktails or teas menu. When we sat down, we were told Noodlecat had just gotten its liquor license. Perfect timing because the drinks Dean Sauer put together were amazing! There were three cocktails to choose from — a Melon Chuhai, a Boo Sauer and a Collins Cloud.
It was a tough decision but I ordered the Boo Sauer which featured a 12 year Yamazaki whiskey, maple syrup and citrus – his own twist on a whiskey sour. While the whiskey had a slight bite, it wasn’t overpowering. The freshness really amplified the flavors of the rich dishes – in particular the rib-eye. I hope something like this will be on the Noodlecat dinner menu because I’ve discovered a love for the occasional whiskey sour thanks to it.
While I didn’t have a chance to try the Melon Chuhai or Collins Cloud, I learned from talking to a couple of staff members during dinner that Sauer is planning seasonal chuhais with different spritz flavors. Watermelon was the evening’s flavor – a fittingly refreshing choice for the heat we’ve been having. Guests at the table next to us ordered the Collins Cloud, Sauer’s twist on a Tom Collins which featured Watershed Gin, a berry reduction and egg white foam. From the reactions I overheard, this was a definite winner and with my love of gin, next on my list to try.
The evening was rounded out by excellent service from our waitress Liz. This is definitely what I’ve come to expect from eating at Sawyer’s Greenhouse so I was glad to see it at Noodlecat as well. Liz and everyon there was helpful, friendly and clearly loved food as they didn’t mind and even seemed to enjoy explaining all of the work that went into the dishes and drinks.
After such an enjoyable preview of the space, I’m excited that Noodlecat is finally here. To celebrate tonight’s grand opening, Dogfish Head Brewery will help host a Beers and Buns Happy Hour — pairing three Dogfish Head brews with ginza buns. For the first week, Noodlecat will be serving lunch, then adding dinner the second week.
Check out their current menu online. There are traditional and Tokyo noodle bowls, but I know I’m most looking forward to the Ohio Beef Brisket Yudaya-Jin Ramen. It comes with matza ball, chicken broth dashi, carrot & picked dill.
Although it’s a mystery no more, you can keep track of Noodlecat’s travels by liking iloveNoodlecat on Facebook, checking out noodlecat.com, and following @Noodle_Cat on Twitter. And if you’re like me and are looking forward to more Brick & Mortar Pop-Ups, follow them here and @BrickNMortar216 to stay up to date.
I hope you’ll join me in slurping some noodles soon!
Disclosure: While we were there, we were surprised with one complimentary dinner. As always, though, the opinions in this post are 100% my own.