After a recent Sunday drive to Beachwood for some pre-wedding shopping (DZ’s favorite), we decided to reward ourselves with a jaunt over to downtown Cleveland for an early dinner, thinking it was a good time to take a chunk out of my ever-growing wishlist of Cleveland restaurants. I’ve been antsy to try Noodlecat, the new Jonathan Sawyer venture on Euclid, right around the corner from his popular Greenhouse Tavern on East 4th, (also on the wishlist, but we were saving it for Restaurant Week, stay tuned.)
Let me warn you, I have a lot to say about Noodlecat, so for all my ADHD readers, (and you know who you are) looking for a quick answer to the question of whether or not Noodlecat is worth your time and money, here’s the big picture, a few recommendations to make the experience a success. Having opened only last July, Noodlecat is taking a hit on UrbanSpoon, with a current approval rating of only 65%. First of all, if it’s your first time, go during happy hour (Monday thru Saturday, 3-7 p.m. and 9-11 p.m. or all day Sunday). Why? Because everything is cheaper and in smaller portions so you can try more. Second, order the steam buns (especially BBQ pork), they’re great, and the Octopus Udon. It’s spicy, flavor-packed, and awesome. The Ramen dishes are, well, Ramen noodles. So if you like mild flavors, go for it, but a lot of you will probably find them bland. Finally, order the Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana steam bun. If you followed my first suggestion and went on a Sunday or during happy hour, then this bun is $2 worth of sheer joy.
Phew, okay, we got the big picture out of the way, now I can dive into the deets.
Inside, Noodlecat is unpretentious and casual, as any noodle house should be. There are brightly colored walls, adorned with comic book style “cat art” presumably done especially for the restaurant which is very cool. The old school furniture, (yes, literally, it’s school furniture that’s been salvaged from John Carroll University) takes you back to 9th grade biology. It’s funky but functional, and fits into the decor pretty well.
I love the name, branding, and associated artwork, and confess this is probably one of the reasons I’ve been itching to go since they opened last summer. They even have a sweet video on the website which helps tell the whole story. What can I say? I’m a sucker for cats, noodles, and great marketing, so this place was screaming my name.
As previously stated: if you haven’t yet been to Noodlecat, do go on a Sunday, because you will be delighted (as we were) to find that happy hour goes all day, which as we learned, equals lots more food for way less cash.
We started the meal with an assortment of “steam buns” which are really just cute little mini-sandwiches, and at happy hour pricing, just $2 each. The bread is a Japanese style white bread, similar to what you might find at dim sum, only Noodlecat serves them up more like sandwiches instead of meat-filled dumplings. The bread is soft, doughie, and light at the same time, and serves as a tasty vessel for the ingredients, aka the meat, sauce, and garnish. What you see above is the BBQ Ohio Pork, with pickled onions and scallions. This steam bun was my first bite and one of my favorites of the entire evening – delicious tender pulled pork, married with a delightful, sweet-ish barbeque sauce and some crunchy veggies.
This guy is the Japanese fried chicken with buttermilk crunchies and iceberg. You can see a little sauce just every-so lightly touching the chicken above. This was a delightful sandwich, but it could have improved with even more sauce; it was slightly dry despite the chicken being excellent, so the potential was there. What little sauce there was added some heat and much-needed tang.
Next we have “Tonkatsu” which is fried pork cutlet with smoked egg sauce. Much like the fried chicken bun, this was delicious, but…more sauce, please!
And finally we have the Tempura Walleye, with hoisin sauce, pickled radish, and iceberg. This would be a very close second to the BBQ pork…..the photo may not do justice to how light, flaky, and flavorful the fish was. Still longing for a touch more sauce though…for me that would be an all-around suggestion for the chefs at the Cat.
Now. Onto the noodles. We opted to try three different noodle dishes (yeah, we’re porkers), mainly because during happy hour, they offer half-sized noodle portions for only $5. Compared to the normal menu price of $12 for a full-size noodle portion, this is another great deal – so for first timers, happy hour is def the way to go.
This dish is called Takahatchi Ramen, which is made with garlic pork broth, roasted pork, dashi, sesame seeds, nori, crispy garlic, and scallions.
Next up was Ohio Beef Brisket with Matzo Ramen. And yes, that is a matzo ball in a Japanese noodle dish! I love the mix and creativity here.
And finally, last but not least, behold, the Spicy Octopus Stir Fry Udon. I will get my one complaint on this dish out of the way quick: the octopus was a little tough. Then again, I don’t have a ton of octopus experience, so who knows how tough (or tender) it should be. All I know is it was chewy and lingered in the mouth for a big too long. HOWEVER, the noodles, sauce, and veggies were outstanding – spicy, crunchy, a party for the palette. We both loved this dish, made with noodles from Ohio City….Chef Sawyer loves local ingredients which we all should appreciate. I strongly recommend this noodle dish over the others. Of course we didn’t try them all, but by far, this was the clear winner among the three. The Ramen dishes, while perfectly fine in terms of quality of ingredients and preparation, by nature were, meh, pretty boring…..it’s kind of like comparing Indian food to Midwest meat and potatoes……I know, weird analogy, but you know what I mean now, right? Both of the Ramen dishes we tried were good, but not good enough to bring us back. The Octopus Udon and the steam buns (especially at happy hour prices) would def bring us back.
And finally, you don’t think we could go home without dessert, do you?
This dessert would blow Elvis’ mind. Banana, gooey peanut butter, and warm chocolate, wrapped inside the Japanese white bread, with a shot of milk (yes milk) on the side. A true taste explosion and an excellent ending to a really fun meal.
So now you have the long and the short of it. In summary, we will be back to Noodlecat, probably not right away because we’ll be working through the rest of the CLE wishlist. But, in time we will return, and in the meantime, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll be improving and expanding on their already playful and unique menu. There’s good stuff here.