Dressed in a headband and a pair of geta, traditional Japanese wooden sandals, chef Jonathon Sawyer welcomed the first official diners into Noodlecat Thursday night. Following a few days of "friends and family" dinners, when the staff fine tunes food, drinks and service, the Japanese noodle bar opens for business on Tuesday, July 19.
Sawyer, along with chefs Jonathan Seeholzer and Brian Reilly, dished up a limited menu to a packed and eager house. The interior of the 55-seat eatery is warm, woodsy and just a bit funky. Diners sit on low metal stools in the front room and at long communal-style benches in the rear. A small bar offers additional stool seating. Tables are topped minimally with sriracha sauce and a receptacle filled with chopsticks, napkins and Asian soup spoons.
Opening salvos included fun-to-eat Ohio "edamame," grilled local sweet peas dusted with pepper that you eat like their soy counterparts. The pickle sampler arrives laden with vibrant house-pickled cucumbers, onions, radish, carrots and ghost chile-fueled green beans. Future renditions will feature house-fermented vegetables. Tender pot stickers are filled with shrimp and water chestnut. Appearing on the permanent menu will be fried firm tofu in dashi broth.
Sawyer and the gang offer traditional Japanese noodle dishes alongside modern versions. That means diners can go old school with cold soba noodles and dashi dipping broth or contemporary as in the case of the Yudayajin (Jewish) ramen, a bowl of noodles, brisket, matzo balls, and chicken broth. The tsukemen ramen is served the traditional way, with noodles and meat served separately from the broth, in this case sliced pork belly and heaven-scented pork stock.
There are about dozen noodle bowls overall, with prices in the $10 to $13 range. Tons of creative sides and add-ons will allow diners to customize their bowls with items like soy-braised eggs, sake-cured roe, pickled veggies, and firm tofu.
Beverage director Dean Sauer oversees a tight selection of cold sakes, house wines, approachable beers and original cocktails. The Collins Cloud blends Ohio-made gin, berry syrup and frothy egg whites.
Noodlecat is at 234 Euclid Avenue (216-589-0007, www.noodlecat.com). Just look for the huge sign featuring the grinning noodle-slurping feline.