TOP 5 DINING: RAMEN RENAISSANCE

 

LYDIA HOUSE 

Once upon a time Emily Ruff was a diner waitress. Now she’s one of Louisville’s coolest chefs and restaurateurs.

In the early days of Lydia House, she thought offering breakfast and lunch was a good idea. It was a good idea but not good enough. Lydia House was such a home run that she expanded the hours to offer dinner. That meant she needed to broaden the menu from breakfast and sandwich options. Ramen was her next very good idea.

Mushroom miso or bone broth are the bases of her noodle soup and broth soup. From there, it’s build-your-own, with additions such as seared pork belly, sesame chicken, caramelized onions, marinated kale, an extra egg and teriyaki tofu. It’s no wonder the seared pork belly is one of the most requested add-ons. It’s marinated in coffee, molasses, five spice and black pepper. “The seared or rare beef are also big. And you can never go wrong with adding cilantro and pepitas,” she says. “I love the house kimchi. I’d eat a bowl of it straight if it weren’t so spicy it would blow my head off.”

She has had a few customers who couldn’t get beyond hemming and hawing over which extras to order, so they went for all 14 add-ons. “To do that, we have to put it in a gigantic serving bowl instead of a regular ramen bowl,” she says. “A nice young couple slurping out of the same bowl was pretty cute.”'

1101 Lydia Street | (502) 718-6002 


CHIK' N MI 

Jason McCollum and his wife, Aenith, traveled the country, opening restaurants in Nashville, Los Angeles and Seattle, before they returned to hometown Louisville to debut Chik’n & Mi.

“We’re known for our Asian-inspired comfort food but we’re kind of all over the place with a bunch of everything…casual, good and tasty,” he says. High on the list of customer (and his own) favorites, is the miso pork ramen that takes more than 20 hours until it’s ready to eat. In addition to pork dashi and roasted pork shoulder, the dish has tamari baby corn, bamboo shoots, soy egg, enoki mushrooms and herbs. Spice lovers and garlic fans can ask for an extra hit of either. Joining the pork ramen are roasted tomato chicken ramen and vegetarian ramen. Chef McCollum likes to surprise guests with special ramen selections. Lobster, scallop and Wagyu beef ramen are three of his recent creations.

Asian-fried chicken is giving the ramen some serious competition. You may choose whether you want it naked with peppercorn ranch, X-tra hot with Jeaw Bong chili paste or tossed in sweet soy. No one could blame you if you need some cherry ginger squash noodles, egg rolls or fried calamari to get you in the decision-making mood. While you’re at it, order sides like street corn, kimchi mac and cheese and fried Brussels sprouts.

2319 Brownsboro Road | (502) 890-5731 | http://chiknandmi.com/


RAMEN INOCHI 

Louisville has Las Vegas to thank for Jonathan Ham’s decision to open Ramen Inochi. “I fell in love with the ramen scene in Las Vegas. It’s about time ramen has caught on in Louisville because it has been exploding in other cities,” he says about the city he once again calls home.

A stuffed toy panda sits on a perch overlooking the action where Ham serves up his flavorful magic that includes appetizers such as handmade gyoza, spicy pork belly buns and garlic edamame. But it’s the seven varieties of ramen (with 10 choices of add-ons) that are the hot topic among Ham’s devotees.

Shoyu (chicken broth seasoned with soy sauce and topped with meat, bamboo shoots, corn cilantro and a soft-boiled egg) and spicy miso, a similar but kicked up dish, are the best sellers. But Ham and his kitchen staff may soon be adding ramen (perhaps a Ramen of the Month) that may nudge those dishes out of their top spots. Stay tuned and get ready to be wowed.

Not everything on the Ramen Inochi menu is spicy, but the chef says his customers are loving touches of bold spiciness. They’re also showing some love for the daily Happy Hour that offers twenty-percent off all food and drinks from 5 to 6 p.m.

Strawberry, green tea, mango and chocolate mochi, or green tea and lychee ice cream can be a sweet finale to your Ramen Inochi dinner.

2009 Highland Avenue | (502) 785-4199 


PHO BA LU 

Many of the dishes on the menu at Pho Ba Luu are a taste of home for chef and partner Jessica Mach. While reminiscent of the traditional Vietnamese dishes her mother taught her to make while she was growing up in Vietnam, they’re tweaked with Mach’s interpretations. The seafood and pork, as well as the vegetarian, crispy rolls reflect her distinctive culinary signature. She also created a pâté (chicken breast, chicken liver and butter) that is a luscious divergence from the recipes for which she honed her culinary skills. Rather than following her mother’s lead of using Cognac in the pâté, Mach’s version is spirited with bourbon. (She’s a true Kentuckian at heart!)

There may not be bourbon in Pho Ba Luu’s noodle bowls, but they are packed with flavors that reveal themselves in each spoonful. Grilled pork, grilled chicken and tofu sauté are marinated in lemongrass for fresh, vibrant definition. The noodle bowls vie for attention with three variations of rice bowls —- shaken beef, chicken curry and tofu with vegetables.

Guests at the restaurant that borders Butchertown and Nulu are also tempted with beef, chicken and vegetarian pho, spring rolls, salads and four types of banh mi.

“My passion is cooking. I’m happy and satisfied when people are amazed and happy with my food,” says Mach. Stop by Pho Ba Luu and have a big helping of that happiness for yourself.

1019 E. Main Street | (502) 384-6822 | http://phobaluu.com/


MIRIN 

Fans of Rumplings may have been disheartened when the restaurant closed, but they’re head over heels about Chef Griffin Paulin’s newest venture, Mirin. “Rumplings was sort of ‘no rules applied’ and was vastly untraditional,” says Paulin. “Mirin is rooted in tradition, more grown up and more focused. Everything we do is, for the most part, traditional ramen-style although we definitely take liberties.”

Mirin’s menu is divided into Noodles (shoyu, spicy triple soup, Veggie II, tantan-men, shellfish shio, veggie ramen and tonkotsu) and Other Stuff, such as pork and tofu bao, shrimp and grits, banh mi and tteokbokki (anchovy, gojuchang, cabbage and vegetables). “When people look confused about what they’re reading on the menu, we tell them the words might be a little scary but that they’re going to enjoy the food,” he says. “They often say it’s their first time with real ramen, not the packaged stuff. And that’s a good thing.”

Everything at Mirin is made to order except broths that take between 8 and 92 hours, depending on the individual broth and the pork belly that involves a long curing process followed by a long roasting process.

Mirin is a quick service restaurant but Paulin and his chef de cuisine, Michael MacInnes, encourage guests to hang out and try one of the sakes. For diners whose only experience with sake has been hot, and probably not very high quality, Mirin’s 15 to 30 sakes will be an eye-opener of a delightful discovery.

2011 Frankfort Avenue | (502) 742-8911 


Posted on 2018-10-24 by Nancy Miller
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