After our visit to David Chang’s Momofuku in NYC, we were eager to renew our acquaintance with Cleveland’s very own chef-owned noodle joint, Noodlecat. Hot noodles will be a great antidote to the cold of January in Ohio, I thought to myself. As it turned out, the noodles (while tasty) were not the highlight.
Chef Jonathan Sawyer is best known for his ultra-hip Cleveland restaurant, the Greenhouse Tavern, which serves such delicacies as “blood fettucine” and “roasted pig head” as well as vegetarian-friendly items like the savory “double decker beans and rice burger.” (To say nothing of the superior manhattans and martinis.) A celebrated item on the menu is “Kitchen Coffee”: If you like your meal, buy the kitchen a round of after-service canned beer. I feel a bit sorry for the poor sods, being forced to make do with canned rather than draft. And to drink it after service. That place is a prison!!
The first thing you notice about Noodlecat is the cool atmosphere, blond-wood noodle-joint furnishings, nostalgic cartoons playing on the TV, and great soundtrack. Chef Jonathan’s taste in music coincides with ours. Our server made us guess what Pandora channel it was. I said, “The fifty-year-olds channel, perhaps?” He giggled and informed us that it was The Kinks channel, saucily asking, “Do you know who they are?” We stifled the ready comment that we were enjoying the Kinks when he was still in nappies.
Noodlecat is very veg-friendly, with vegan and (natch) gluten-free menus. I was anxious to try the steamed buns after our mind-blowing experience at Momofuku. The buns at the ‘Cat are miniature-sized compared to Changbuns, and not as ecstasy-inducing, but quite respectably tasty.
After these amuse-bouches, we moved on to the Japanese chopped salad with iceberg, crunchy noodles, avocado, bean sprouts and tofu. It was good, but the true highlight (as always) was the veggie tempura. I don’t know how they make it so light and crispy, but the batter is as delicate as an angel’s wing. Chef has taken to battering sizable chunks. This plate contained a whole chard leaf, a half-avocado deep fried in one piece, slices of sweet potato, onion, and the celebrated ‘Cat-cake of shredded veggies. All seasoned with creamy, spicy pepper sauce (our server automatically brought an extra).
Finally came the noodles. For the Long-Suffering Husband, the spicy soba stir fry with jalapeños, bamboo shoots, tofu and sesame chili paste. For me, the dan-dan udon, with spicy garlic oil, nuts, sweet soy and basil. The udon are served al dente.
My only complaint about Noodlecat is that when we go, they never seem to have a vegetarian ramen on the menu. The same was true at Momofuku. Still, I live in hope…