Rah-Rah-RAMEN

Here it is, food blog number one.

Amber here – hihowareyou – and Mel and I recently visited Tengu in the up-and-coming River North district. How was it, you ask? LET ME TELL YOU HOW IT WAS.

Mel and I were on our way to a Holiday Dress party, hosted by the lovely folks over at Happy Leaf Kombucha highlighting a selection of 50 Dresses by Tess Vigil and we wanted to try something new. It was also chilly out, so we wanted something warm. And we didn’t want to drive all night, so something close was a plus. And we were maybe on a timeline. And a budget.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “my my, Amber, you two are awfully picky.” And maybe we are! But now you know how high the stakes were for us.

So, we get there. Kind of. After several minutes of fumbling with smartphone maps and driving through an unpaved parking lot, we find it. The Westword wasn’t kidding when they called the restaurant’s design minimalist. The sign outside was the size of a person’s hand on the far end of a large building. Which was OK because after having trekked through a slightly uncomfortable chill and fully regretting our footwear decisions and lack of pants, we found it.

When you walk in, the seating style is simple – tabletops line the walls and bar with bar stools beneath.  A sizable banquet table runs down the middle of the room and a few freestanding tabletops are put in where they fit, all with stools. It seemed appropriate, given the weather and cuisine, that we’d be hunkered down over a steaming bowl of something or other, closely nestled to one another.

We take a look at the menu – five ramen options, one curry option, three appetizers and the usual cast of non-alcoholic beverages. So of course we take a look at the drink menu, which had almost as many items. Mel orders house-made sake and I get something pink, which seems about right. We also order some pork gyoza (or, if you’re Melissa Leach, GOYZAA!). And let me just say conversation has all but halted because we are so hungry.

The drinks come – mine is delicious. I have no idea what’s in it. Rum? Pineapple juice? Lord knows what made it pink. Probably unicorn blood and Maraschino cherry juice. Same, same, though. And Mel’s sake was great. I’m no connoisseur of the stuff but this particular batch wasn’t too acerbic or, for lack of a better word, alcoholic. It tasted smooth and clean.

Cocktails were easy to drink, which is why we had a second round.

Then the GOYZAA came out. The insides were just wonderful. Well-seasoned deliciousness all around. But for me, the true test of these SOBs is how the wrappers are cooked. Typically, gyoza are pan-fried until the bottoms are crunchy and golden brown. Then some water is put in, a lid is put on, and those tasty bastards steam until the insides are cooked and the skins have that distinctly-chewy, bottom-crunchy texture. These were delicious! A+ on your pork gyozas, Tengu.

Then – the moment we’d been waiting for.

RAH RAH RAMEN!

Mel ordered the vegetable ramen in a miso broth while yours truly got the pork ramen in a chicken/pork broth.

Mel’s soup was great and the bowl had a generous portion of nori that speckled throughout the oodles of noodles in her bowl. She also put, like, a cup of sriracha in it  and it was the perfect addition. My bowl was also pretty delish, though I confess I preferred the miso broth over my own chicken/pork. However.

HOWEVER.

This pork. THIS FRIGGEN PORK. It was delicious. Like, melt-in-your-mouth-salty-fatty-i-love-you-pork. Like bacon’s softer, more subdued sister that you don’t see quite so often now that you moved but every time you come back to visit like for holidays and stuff you remember why you guys were such good friends in the first place and got along totally fine even when bacon wasn’t around. This was really good pork is what I’m trying to say.

AND THE NOODLES! Oh, the noodles.

Let me tell you something – Mel and I can talk forever about pretty much anything. But once food hits the table, that’s it for at least the next several hours – we just talk about food. Then take momentary breaks to stuff our faces. And then talk about it all some more. And that is what we did with these noodles. They were perfect.

The thing about ramen that I’ve found is that if everything has the same texture, it’s a difficult thing to enjoy. For instance, my bowl was chock-full of that delicious, pillowy pork, tender bamboo shoots, boiled egg, and Mel’s had soft, meaty mushrooms and cabbage. Which was all wonderful and delicious, but itself doesn’t feel like it could fill anyone up.

But these noodles were wonderful. They were chewy without being too firm, a perfect texture to really sink your teeth into, bite through, and know it’s something that will sit stick to your ribs and make you feel full. They had a great mouthfeel. Is mouthfeel a word? It is. I googled.

And the best part? Our drinks were more expensive than our food. Which is actually not the best part for us, but on a day when someone just wants a hot bowl of ramen to hold them over, you won’t pay much more than $10, and that’s pretty dang good for what we got.

So. How did it Tengu fare?

New? Check. Warm? Yep. Close? Very. Timely? Uh-huh. Cheap? You betcha.

I’d give it a ten-gu out of… Ugh. I won’t finish the terrible pun. Sorry guys.

Wins on all sides, Tengu! See you again soon!

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