Keeping it simple is often the key to brilliance, and with a short focussed menu of 5 apps, 6 different kinds of noodle dishes, and a few et ceteras (hmm...scrapple in ramen!?!?!?), all packaged in cool space with lots of counter seating and a giant 'Eat More Noodles' mural as backdrop, Cheu accomplishes this goal.
This is undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated openings of 2013, a 'noodle bar' from partners Chef Ben Puchowitz (of Matyson fame, one of our favorite BYOBs) and his buddy Shawn Darragh. Their pop-ups last year were apparently a smash success, with a line down the street, so we made a point of stopping by Cheu early on opening day to see what the excitement was all about.
We arrived exactly at opening (3PM), and were immediately seated at the counter with a few others (there are also several tables, for total of ~30 seats). It was mostly full by the time we left, but there was rarely a line, and we left before the dinner rush.
Between the two of us, we tried (see photos):
~Garlic black wings with shishito peppers ($8/4)--Actually we got 5, 3 drumettes and 2 wingettes, which were crispy, meaty, with a light dose of a sticky sweet soy sauce, and some mildly spicy peppers. My favorite dish, I could make a meal out of these. KILLER!
~Pork belly and hamburger buns ($7/2)--We could choose any combination from 3 different buns (including the mung bean that we didn't try). These are tiny two-biters that look smaller than the photos I've seen online, but are very tasty. The Angus beef was topped with Wisconsin cheddar and house-made pickles. The pork belly was also topped with pickles. The buns are a bit strange, a bit like tiny English muffins, if that makes any sense, toasted in a skillet. My favorite was the pork belly, which like the pork with ramen below was melt-in-your mouth.
~Pork belly with house-made ramen noodles, egg, sea beans, greens ($12)--A very very intense broth (I suspect borderline too intense for some), but overall a very good dish. The ramen was perfectly al dente and the egg appeared to be soft poached. A good sized bowl, but not huge. I added in some of the pho fixin's below.
~Duck pho with foie gras meatballs, turnips, fixin's--I only tried a little of this, but it seemed like the pho was pretty similar to the ramen above. Thinly sliced, very tender duck, and melt-in-your mouth meatballs, although I can't say I got any foie flavor. The broth is much milder than than the pork belly's above. Comes with the usual pho accompaniments of basil and mung beans, lime, and also pickled white radish (I think). Of the two noodle dishes, I think I preferred the lighter broth of the duck pho.
Cheu's mish-mass of Chef Benny's whatever "I think tastes best" manages to avoid the ongoing 'Raman Wars', where ramen is stylistically divided into smaller and smaller subgroups and aficionados endlessly (and nonsensically) argue about which ramen shop more is more authentic. Come on guys, who cares if it is 'authentic', if it tastes good? And Cheu's noodles definitely taste great!
Or maybe Cheu defines a new subgroup: 'Philly Style' ramen!
Currently BYOB (we brought some Guinness), with sodas, etc available, but planning to get a liquor license (big orange placard on the door). Service was quick, friendly and efficient, with Shawn greeting customers at the front. Parking is fairly easy in a few local lots.
Some nice photos and background from Zagat:
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