Sunday, September 4, 2011


Bug gave in and finally took me to Noodlecat, a ramen-ya located near the heart of Downtown Cleveland.

I knew I was going to be in for a tough time two minutes into the visit after Bug perused the menu. He adores Tokyo style (shoyu) ramen, and Noodlecat does not serve any traditional Japanese dishes. I suggested that it was not too late for us to walk out, but he was adamant about staying; perhaps to collect ammunition for all the times I've lead him astray throughout our food adventures.

Before coming to Noodlecat, I made up my mind that I wanted to try the octopus and bone marrow takoyaki since this was highlighted in a broadcast I saw online. The broadcast also noted that the chefs spent some time in Japan, which raised my expectations rather high.

365-84 Noodlecat Octopus Bone Marrow
Day 084/365 - Spherical pancakes ≠ takoyaki

I didn't find "takoyaki" on the menu when I arrived, but came across an entry for octopus and bone marrow spherical pancakes. It sounded similar enough, even though the texture of takoyaki does not resemble pancakes. I proceeded to order it along with a Kyoto udon. Bug, not finding anything of interest on the menu, settled for the pork miso ramen.

The takoyaki arrived prettily arranged. I poked around and noticed that four were served -- an unusual number to be presented in western dining since odd numbers are preferred for aesthetic reasons. In Japan, the number 4 is pronounced, "shi," which is a homonym for death. As a result, presenting someone with four items is to be avoided as much as possible. I've been told this number convention is practiced in China also. I don't expect a non-Japanese person to know this, so this wasn't a deal breaker.

Now for the taste. Where shall I start?

The texture was like pancakes, so they came through as advertised. Unfortunately, I had takoyaki in my mind. Takoyaki does not have the same texture as pancakes.  These spherical pancakes also had a slight sweetness that reminded me of the last time I had buckwheat pancakes. This did not sit well with me. Nowhere on the menu did they say this was takoyaki, so I accepted that this was their vision. Fine.

The katsuobushi was appropriate with the mayonnaise. Takoyaki traditionally also comes with a sprinkle of aonori (laver) and a Worcestershire base takoyaki sauce. This sauce caused me to swear off of takoyaki and okonomiyaki for the past 22 years, except for the one instance when I was in Hiroshima and was taken to a renowned okonomiyaki restaurant by my family.  Aonori was not served, but shichimi togarashi is available at the table along with chili sauce and shoyu. Instead of the traditional takoyaki sauce, an ume sauce was served. A bit on the stingy side, but I have no complaints on the pleasant, piquant flavor and the vibrant color.

After finishing up the pancakes, I was apprehensive about the rest of the meal. Bug was annoyed but remained silent.

My bowl of Kyoto udon arrived. I did not expect a black kombu broth, but it was presented as well as seaweed in black broth could be presented. When I make broth with kombu, it results in a transparent green-yellow tinged broth. The broth had a very strong prepared hijiki flavor and was tepid. It wasn't what I expected, but it wasn't bad.

365-84 Noodlecat Kyoto Udon
Day 084/365 - Kyoto udon

Shiitake and nameko were a pleasant find. The tofu was unexpectedly sour. It must have been poached in vinegar. As a result of the being poached, the skin was tough. I'm sure this was done to make it easier to grab. Silken tofu can be difficult to pick up with chopsticks.

The noodles were hard and chewy, probably 3-4 minutes away from being al dente. I decided not to return the bowl because I detest overcooked noodles. I would rather eat raw noodles than limp, soggy, overcooked noodles.

Bug hated his bowl and choked his food down. My recollection of the broth was that the miso was very, very subtle and lukewarm. It didn't resemble tonkotsu broth either. Again, it wasn't what I expected, but wasn't vile. He didn't care for the spinach and hated the noodles because they were served tangled in such a way that it was difficult to slurp or grab them without lifting the contents of the entire bowl.

365-84 Noodlecat Pork Miso
Day 084/365 - Pork miso ramen

I explained to Bug that he was served Chinese noodles which were probably not meant to be slick and slurped.  On the bright side, the noodles were not overcooked. This has been an issue that has plagued all Cleveland Japanese restaurants. I have yet to figure out if the blame falls on the wait staff or the kitchen. This was the first time I have been served undercooked noodles. We drive to Columbus for decent ramen.

Our server was fine and water service was fantastic. We were asked five times how our meal was. Each time, I twitched and replied that everything was fine. Bug glared at me and didn't say a word.

Even though it has been stated the chefs spent time in Japan, there is little to corroborate this. I suppose spending 1 week in Japan would still qualify that statement, especially for a chef who I expect to have a discerning tongue. In no way has Noodlecat said what they serve is authentic Japanese food. This was the reason why I did not say anything each time I was asked how the meal was going. Taste is subjective.

Bug does not wish to return. I am more forgiving and would like to return in 6 months. I likely caught the kitchen on a bad day. The ideas are interesting and I trust the creators of the Greenhouse Tavern.

- Cassaendra

234 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44114
Tel: (216) 589-0007

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