Review: Nudo House
Finally, Qui Tran (along with partner Marie-Anne Velasco) has opened his long-promised ramen restaurant. Even though ramen spots have been cropping up all around town, diners no doubt expect this one to be a cut above the rest, given Tran’s pedigree as son of Mai Lee founder Lee Tran. And in some ways, it is.
The classic pork ramen broth is top notch. It had a rich, meaty undertone that is the raison d’être for this dish in the first place. Additionally, my Classic Nudo ($12) had a generous portion of sliced pork—more than at most places. The marinated, 7-minute egg also was perfection, and the noodles were good, too. Although one attraction of this dish is that it’s a ‘meal in a bowl,’ so I would have liked it to have had more ingredients, like greens and shoots.
The Shroomed Out ($12), a mushroom ramen bowl, had a better assortment of veggies—baby bok choy, lots of ’shrooms and a few other goodies. Its broth was very satisfying with the hearty, salty, almost addictive character of umami, the fifth flavor in Japanese cuisine (salty, bitter, sour, sweet and umami).
It was nice to see a menu of side dishes here, which are really just small bowls of extra nibbles. Our Menma ($2) was sliced bamboo shoots with a slightly sweet flavor. The Pickled Mustard Greens ($2) were a satisfying dish of finely chopped greens with a subtle bitterness. There is also a large appetizer selection, including spring rolls supposedly from Mai Lee. But again, our pork and shrimp roll ($2) had very little wrapped inside the thin rice skin—only rice noodles and a small piece of meat at one end, a half shrimp at the other. What about greens?
The Crab Rangoon ($4) had no detectable crab. The Banh Mi, a traditional Vietnamese sandwich created when the colonial French brought their famous baguettes to the Southeast Asian country, was excellent once I combined the fillings from my two sandwiches into one. The Banh Mi Pho Dip ($8) contained shredded beef piled atop a French bread bun spread with sweet, thick hoisin sauce on one side and some kind of pâté on the other. A crisp, fresh wedge of cucumber was also in there, along with fresh cilantro and a bit of jalapeño pepper. Yum!
Also really good and indicative of the cuisine’s interplay of flavors was the Nudo Salad ($5). Mostly shaved ingredients—lotus root, sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, shrimp and pork—came crisp and fresh, tossed with a sweet and tangy vinegar and wine concoction.
Pho, the mainstay of Vietnamese fast food, came in four offerings—beef, chicken, shrimp and combo. All share the same beef broth, which is distinctly flavored with star anise, clove and cinnamon; if you don’t like these traditionally Western baking flavors in savory food, avoid the dish. The massive bowl of bean sprouts, cilantro, shredded chicken, sliced pork and a couple of shrimp halves was a hefty portion, except for the protein. Don’t miss the soft serve ($4), the only dessert offered. It was rich and creamy and comes in lychee and passion fruit flavors.
Diners no doubt will evaluate Nudo for what it is: fast-casual, cheap eats. The prices are so reasonable, it’s hard to expect more meat or greens in the dishes!
the scene | Fast-casual ramen spot by Qui Tran of Mai Lee and Marie-Anne Velasco
the chef | Marie-Anne Velasco
the prices | $2-$5 starters, $6-$8 banh mi, $12 ramen, $10-$13 pho
the favorites | Classic Nudo, Banh Mi Pho Dip, Nudo salad, soft-serve ice cream
food • ŏ • lō • gy
pho | A hybrid Vietnamese-French dish that gets its name from the French pot au feu (pronounced ‘fu’), this thin stew has sliced meat, bean sprouts, greens and a fragrant broth with exotic flavors like star anise and clove.
banh mi | The Vietnamese word for bread, this is a sandwich on a French bread roll that typically includes rich pâté, meat, cucumber, jalapeño, cilantro, radish and other raw vegetables.
ramen | A Japanese dish, this revolves around a flavorful broth and wheat noodles, piled with meat, Asian greens, a marinated, cooked egg, seaweed and other tasty ingredients.
11423 olive blvd. | 314.234.8046
Photos: Bill Barrett