Monday, January 30, 2012

Roundeye Noodle Hits The Bullseye

Note: The business has now been renamed Cheu Noodle Bar as of March 21, 2012.

There is nothing more fun in the restaurant world than pop-ups. Sure, I love exploring tantalizing tasting menus and find dessert carts/rooms are positively rad, but the exclusiveness and menu uniqueness inherent in a one-night-only menu excites me. Pop-ups kill two birds with one stone: customers get to try dishes not usually offered at restaurants, while chefs and restaurateurs can test new menus and concepts and judge consumer satisfaction.

Yesterday evening (Sunday, January 29) marked the debut of Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh’s brainchild Roundeye Noodle. Conceptualized by the four-year Matyson veteran and food and retail marketing expert, respectively, Ben and Shawn wanted to “combine their respective backgrounds and their obsession for everything noodle” to create "a hip noodle spot run by two white boys from the suburbs." The pop-up was hosted in the hallowed dining room of Matyson, with a sign on the front window indicating the restaurant's one-night change.

Short and sweet, the menu was composed of three sections—Vegetables, Noodles, and Juice—of three items each. I wished I had the opportunity to try one of the juices (the pineapple with vanilla, jalapeno, and Thai basil sounded tantalizing), but they ran out by the time we sat down around 6 pm. On the upside, the menu's primary feature was its inventive spins on classic Asian-influenced noodle dishes, and there was no shortage of those yet! My companion and I each chose a bowl of noodles and split our meal so we had a chance to sample some of the kitchen’s magic.

The Duck Pho highlighted duck leg and foie gras dumplings atop a bed of glassy rice vermicelli noodles. The bowl invoked Vietnamese inspiration while simultaneously showcasing a bit of Roundeye flair. Part of the duck was integrated as a filling inside two gyoza-shaped, wonton-like dumplings; unfortunately, the soggy soup-saturated wrapper weighed down the dumplings, taking away from the duck and foie gras’ inherent richness. (I think the dumplings would have tasted fantastic as a crisp pan-fried appetizer.) The rest of the duck in the dish was thinly sliced and adorned the top of the bowl like a flower in bloom; this feast for the eyes was a feast for the taste buds. If this ingredient had a greater presence in the dish, I would have been quite happy. I also wished the broth had a stronger flavor; more cilantro and mint would have perked up the dish and would have still stayed true to its Vietnamese heritage. Luckily, pickled turnips charged the dish with a welcome tangy spark. The clear vermicelli was deliciously slurp-y and acted as a solid base for the dish.

Yet the true star of our meal was the Pork Belly Ramen: it was the epitome of umami (the Japanese “fifth taste” relating to savoriness, along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). The pork belly’s perfectly charred crust gave way to unctuous, melt-in-your-mouth mouthfuls of tender meat. The noodles were plump and thicker than your average ramen, with a good bite and flavor; they were authentic in the way that you can only find at hand-drawn Chinese noodle shops. The broth was rich and savory, full-bodied in the most mouthwatering way possible. Sliced shiitakes and swiss chard added varying textures and tastes in a delightful union of East and West vegetables. A whole soy stained egg—its golden yolk still pleasantly soft within the hard-boiled whites—rounded out the dish. Needless to say, we reached the bottom of the bowl way too fast.

Despite a few shortcomings, Ben and Shawn’s new venture was well-executed overall. Customer popularity can attest to that: Roundeye opened their doors at 4 pm and ran out of food before 9 pm. I wish them all the best in launching a full-time restaurant and hope to be the first one waiting outside, ready to try their delicious fare!

For more information, you can visit their website ( or follow them on Twitter (@roundeyenoodle).

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