Cheu Noodle Bar

I love noodles. Give me pasta in any iteration from any cuisine and you have a happy camper. Vegetable lo mein? Yup. Spaghetti carbonara? Absolutely. Pho? Sure. Macaroni and cheese? I love you.

Philadelphia is a great noodle town. From my favorite red gravy restaurants in deep South Philly to the pho spots on Washington Avenue–and hand drawn noodles in Chinatown, of course–it’s easy to get a big bowl of carbs. Until a year or so ago, however, one noodle niche that we were sorely lacking was ramen. Much to the delight of many, ramen has recently become the next big thing. From Terakawa Ramen to Nom Nom Ramen to Hiro Ramen, there are growing opportunities to get a large bowl of chewy noodles with pork belly, soft-boiled egg and other accoutrements in a rich and steamy broth. When Cheu Noodle Bar first opened, as a series of pop-up dinners at Matyson Restaurant where Chef Ben Puchowitz works, they wowed diners with a ramen-centric Asian menu with a modern flair. Their pop-ups were all the rage, people (myself included) dialing endlessly to snag a seat at one of their popular events. I still remember the sweet Vietnamese sausage and broccoli that is now on the menu at Cheu. Almost as notable as the food was the neat and diverse play list which was much appreciated by our DJ dining companions.

Fast forward to Spring 2013 when Puchowitz and friend, Shawn Darragh (who has experience on the retail side of things) finally opened their store front. The space is small, with just a few tables and a long bar where you can watch the food being prepared. In my opinion, the bar is a prime spot as it affords you the opportunity to take in the show.

Because they do not take reservations, my husband and I stopped by for an early dinner one Sunday. The place was packed and we were lucky enough to snag two seats at the end of the bar. Note: they will take down your name and number and call you when your table is ready if you so desire.

Rather than bread, we were greeted with a snack of the dry ramen noodles that we are all familiar with.
IMG_3837It was a kitschy yet cute move that would only work for these guys.

We checked out the menu and had our usual conversations about what apps to split and what entrees we wanted to claim. You can’t order the same thing, of course.  We could have ordered every appetizer but stopped at three. It would be great to go with a group so you can get a little taste of everything.

We started with the black garlic wings with shishito peppers and herbs. We got them literally right out of the fryer and they piping hot but not spicy and the definition of finger licking good.
IMG_3838Following that, we tried the buns. This is the perfect example of their spin on traditional classics.

IMG_3839Buns are a staple at ramen houses and Cheu does steer slightly towards the traditional with their pork belly, but the cheeseburger option (you can select two. The other choice was mung bean) infuses the most traditional American food with this Asian standby. These are not the most “splittable” items on the app menu and I quickly found out why. As I carefully took my bite of half of the cheesesteak bun, I accidentally ate the entire pickle. Whoops! Even without the pickle, my husband confirmed that these were a tasty little snack to start the meal.

Our final app were the BBQ rice cakes. I really had no idea what to expect but had read that they were a can’t miss so we obviously had to order them.

IMG_3840

While my husband and I didn’t agree on these, I was ok with that–more for me! I had expected the rice cakes to be crispy but they were chewy, glutinous delights. When we had them, they were dressed with a sweet tatsoi, black bean sauce and sesame combination, although they’ve changed it up a bit since. While the rice cakes themselves could be considered an acquired taste, we both agreed that the dressing was worthy of licking the bowl.

Next up was the main attraction! While the cold sesame noodles are usually a weakness of mine, I was pretty set on getting one of the soups. I ended up going traditional (well, as traditional as you get get at Cheu) with the pork belly ramen and my husband got the duck pho.

IMG_3842While I love ramen, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m certainly no aficionado. I’ll just say that this soup was pretty damn good. The broth was smooth with a little funk and the noodles had just the right amount of bite. Oh, and the pork belly was pretty freakin’ tender.

I only had a bite or two of the duck pho but my husband declared the foie gras meatballs (foie gras meatballs?!) to be the best thing he ate all night. Delicate and fluffy, they melded perfectly with the slightly more refined pho broth than the ones that we are accustomed to.

IMG_3841Meanwhile, the soundtrack to the dinner had me tapping my foot all night long.

While I don’t usually take bathroom photos, I just couldn’t resist this adorable one. Glad to see they’re concerned with the environment.

IMG_3844Overall, I was beyond pleased. After the pop up at Matyson, I knew I’d like it. Didn’t know just how much I’d love it from the vibe to the friendliness of our waitress to, obviously, the food itself. While I came for the noodles, everything on the menu was top-notch and eating there just made me feel good.

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Vietnamese Noodle Salad a.k.a. Adventures with my Mandoline

Fridays are usually take-out nights in the Row Home Eats household. After a long week, there’s nothing like curling up to a movie and a Los Jalapenos steak, pepper and onion burrito (hold the rice, add guacamole, please.) We don’t have to worry about cooking and our weekly food supply has diminished just in time for our Saturday shopping expeditions at the Reading Terminal. This Friday, however, we had some extra marinated flank steak calling our name. My butcher, Harry Ochs, has an amazing soy-ginger marinade that they use on flank steak and chicken breast. It’s normally available pre-packaged but, if not, they’re always happy to marinate your choice of meat to order. Flank steak is a difficult topic for us because I enjoy my meat a little more well done, while my carnivorous husband, Mr. Row Home Eats, likes it rare. We recently discovered a happy medium–we cut the steak into skewers and the pieces can be cooked to order. Happiness all around.

As I was contemplating the sides to go with our marinated steak skewers, my husband suggested an Asian noodle salad. The evening took off from there. Have I mentioned that Vietnam is my favorite restaurant? Have I devoted extensive posts to my adoration for Vietnamese food? Why is it, then, that I have never attempted to make it at home? That was it. I was sold on making a Vietnamese noodle salad topped with grilled steak similar to my favorite vermicelli bowl at Vietnam.

I did a little googling and came across this recipe. I didn’t realize it was Bobby Flay until just now so you can stop making fun of me. I did, of course, make major alterations to the recipe based on available ingredients and taste preference. My amalgamated recipe follows.

Bobby Flay’s Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad, adapted

  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (omitted–Mr. RHE doesn’t like spicy)
  • 1 tablespoon honey (used more like 2-3 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce (didn’t have. Used 3 tbsp soy sauce instead)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt(omitted)
  • 1 pound dried rice vermicelli
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • cucumber, halved, peeled, seeded and sliced into thin halfrounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (omitted, didn’t have.)
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded napa cabbage (probably used closer to 1-2 cups. What can I say, I like cabbage)
  • 1/4 cup chopped dryroasted nuts

I started by slicing and skewering the flank steak to prepare it for the grill.

While we waited for the grill to pre-heat, I pulled out my mandoline and began wreaking havoc on my kitchen. I was inspired to use my mandoline after my recent post on kitchen tools. My friend, Alexa, commented that she loved her mandoline and I realized that I’ve only used it once, rather unsuccessfully, since we received it as a wedding gift. Another friend, Brad, shared his unfortunate mandoline experience (unfortunate for his finger, that is) and I was intrigued. Perhaps I should give my mandoline another shot, I thought.

Last time I used the mandoline, I was less than successful. It was difficult to get the hang of it and I couldn’t get a clean “sweep” back and forth. This time I started with the easy English cucumber. The mandoline glided back and forth effortlessly–I was back in business! Then I moved on the the cabbage. I was excited to try the julienne blade as I had only ever used the straight slicer. It wasn’t entirely unsuccessful.

Most of it got into the bowl I placed beneath…it went a little more downhill when I switched to carrots. In the end, I got a nice amount of sliced and julienned vegetables. I think they look rather pretty!

My mandoline was a little worse for the wear. Does anyone have tips as to how to remove carrot stains?

As I finished playing with my mandoline, the water started boiling for the rice noodles. As I was just about to toss them in, my husband came in and informed me that we were out of propane halfway through the cooking process. Chalk that up to another typical cooking experience. Sigh. Under the broiler they went and I began prepping the sauce.

I combined the soy sauce, lime juice, honey, cilantro and garlic in my mini-Cuisinart. See, I TOLD you I use that thing a ton! I was wondering why Bobby didn’t use any rice vinegar in his recipe so I tossed a bit in the mixture. After I whirred the thing a bit, I deemed the mixture a bit thin and decided to add some peanuts. Where did I get said peanuts? Well, for those of you who might have thought that I was some fancy foodie, think again. I picked the peanuts out of a bag of trail mix that was sitting in my fridge. Yes I did. Nothing is beneath me, my friends. Here’s the Cuisinart in action.

After the sauce was made, I brought the water back to a boil and tossed in the rice noodles. Instructions said to boil for 2 minutes but they weren’t quite ready and I added another minute or two. Then I drained them and covered in cold water, rinsing them well. The rice noodle give off  a lot of gumminess so the rinsing is key. Also, this is a cold noodle salad and we want to keep it that way. Here’s a boring white on white picture (with a shadow) to show you what it looks like at this point.

I pulled the flank steak out of the broiler and it looked darn good. We don’t need no stinkin’ grill!

While the steak was cooling a bit, I tossed the noodles and vegetable slaw with the dressing. I didn’t think the dressing would be sufficient (it was only about a cup) but it soaked into the noodles nicely.  I also threw in some more ground peanuts, sliced green onion and some extra cilantro on top.

I mixed it all up and put the remaining cucumbers on top.

Then we dug in! I prepared myself a bowl with a couple slices of flank steak and, if I can say so myself, the dish looked eerily similar to my favorite place!

I topped mine with some sriracha because I like the heat! Then we settled down to an evening of Mad Men on DVD. The noodle salad was a hit! It had a very strong lime/acidic flavor, probably due to the extra rice wine vinegar I added. The vegetables and chopped peanuts added a welcome crunch to the chewiness of the noodles and the steak was, not surprisingly, a perfectly charred, meaty addition to the bowl. A word to the wise–this dish does not keep well at all. The noodles harden up a bit and the flavor subsides substantially. If you’re going to make it, be sure you eat it all the same day. It’s so darn good that it shouldn’t be too difficult.