Once again Jonathon Sawyer and crew are on the cutting edge of food trends … and helping insure that Cleveland is too. This time it’s restaurants with a short life span. Chefs secure a venue, create a menu, host a dinner party for a single night or a week of nights, then pack it in and the party’s over. It’s a chance for them to play with ingredients, test ideas and break free of diners’ expectations. For the people they feed these temporary eateries are exciting, an opportunity to be part a singular and out-of-the-ordinary experience. These culinary adventures are getting traction in big cities around the country.
Sawyer in Noodlecat kitchen: photo by Bridger Rehner
Sawyer’s calling his version Brick & Mortar Pop-Ups. I was a guest at the very first one, held last Saturday night in his not-yet-open new place, Noodlecat, on Euclid Avenue, just around the corner from The Greenhouse Tavern. Lee Anne Wong, an accomplished chef well known for her Bravo TV and Cooking Channel appearances, was in town to help him launch the planned series. The two partnered in the kitchen to great effect, producing a highly original and outstanding menu titled "Easy Japaneasy.” It foreshadows some of noodle dishes Sawyer will soon be serving there as well as what Wong wants to do for the Asian-inspired gastropub she hopes to get up and running in New York city before the end of the year.
Lee Anne Wong doing Easy Japanesy: photo by Bridget Rehner
The options were divided into three categories: Fingers, Sticks and Slurps. Sharing plates with the husband, I got to try three in category one and two each in the others: roasted oysters seasoned with togarashi (a 7-spice blend), garlic and bone marrow butter, (among the more astonishing and delicious things I’ve ever eaten), plus tea smoked deviled eggs on toast topped with marinated salmon roe, and crispy shallots with breaded pork cutlet sliders with mustard-katsu sauce and cabbage salad; shrimp and water chestnut gyoza with scallion ponzu dipping sauce + nanbanzuke of perch (cold marinated fried fish) with tomato watermelon salad and pickled onions; braised pork belly stew with radishes, carrots, and tiny potatoes in a drinkable soy laced broth + a gingery udon noodle stir fry with cabbage and bits of bacon. Bartender Dean Sauer mixed me up a Lee Anne Special made with Maker’s Mark and Orange Rhubarb spritz, a Dutch salad featuring gin and ginger beer and Noodlecat’s Japanese margarita. We left nothing edible or drinkable behind.
Perch: Photo by Bridget Rehner
Wong, wearing golden clogs, told me the pair got quite a work out in the kitchen with many hours of prep required. "It was a good warm-up for Noodlecat," she said. "Jonathon has an ambitious menu planned and will be doing some similar dishes." It may get even more ambitious- he and wife Ameilia left the next morning for eight days of research-that means eating- in Tokoyo.
The next Bricks and Mortar Pop-Up, also at Noodlecat, comes courtesy of Dim and Dem Sum founder Chris Hodgson July 11 & 13. Reservations required. The uber-energetic and super social young chef recently returned home after a cross country stint as a contestant, and finalist, on America’s Great Food Truck Race, along with his second mobile chuck wagon, Hodge Podge, and plans for a permanent location.
Noodlecat, which will serve strictly Japanese style noodle based preparations, should be totally finished and ready for customers right after this event. The space, small, simple and fun, already looked great Saturday. The design and décor is a collaborative effort for Sawyer and Sin-Jin Satayathum, the artist who helped give Greenhouse Tavern its distinctive and sustainable character. Based on first impressions, I’d say they’ve successfully combined elements of a traditional ramen house here with something distinctly their own and totally Cleveland. Love the long repurposed school lab tables ats the back, bench along one side, stools on the other. They create instant sociabilty. Traded "what to order" advice with a pair of women on my left, and the couple on my right offered samples of their dish. If I was a cat, I'd have been purring with happiness.