Nalbandian Nosh: Summer Edition


Jean Nalbandian

We forgot to take a photo before we ate pretty much all of our meal, so here’s a picture of a couple of empty bowls and some garnish.

Welcome back to the Nalbandian Nosh. We know you’ve missed us. It’s been a long time since we brought you our last review, even though summer seemed to pass in the blink of an eye this year. I guess that’s what happens when your schedule is jam-packed, and when you spend every evening playing Zelda (ahem… carnivore). Despite our busy lives, there is always one thing we will make time for: food. Wait… we mean family; family is important. Anyway, one lucky evening our schedules aligned and we all managed to make it to Creve Coeur’s Nudo House. Keep reading to hear our thoughts about this trendy Vietnamese restaurant.

The Herbivore’s Meal

As your resident meat-free reviewer, I am glad to report that Nudo House has some vegetarian options. However, I was disappointed to see that there were no “3-1-Pho” options. In other words, no vegetarian pho for me. Nevertheless, there were a lot of other options, mainly in the salad section. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, though. Plant-based people don’t want to eat sad wilted pieces of lettuce for every single meal. Still, Nudo House had two vegetarian ramen options: Curry Up! and Shroomed Out. I appreciate the wordplay. I decided to go with the mushroom option, given my deep affinity for the fungus.

Father and daughter, deeply pondering the herbivore’s dish. Shroomed Out Ramen: mushroom broth, king oyster mushroom, bok choy, menma black garlic. $12.00 (Jean Nalbandian)

We chose a table towards the back of the restaurant, where bright television screens displayed several shows about pho and other types of noodles. I’m shocked and very pleased that such programs exist. Our food soon arrived, steaming, and I was excited to see my noodles piled deep into a bowl of savory mushroom broth, plenty of mushrooms around. I appreciated the addition of the bok choy, it provided a good extra base.

I started by working on the broth, as it was filled near to the brim and I wanted to work it down a bit. It was delicious to say the least, although I nearly burned my tongue. It was perfectly savory with the hints of mushroom flavor— a good introduction to the rest of the meal. I then started on the ramen noodles. Now, the only ramen I’ve ever had is that really cheap kind from the grocery store, and needless to say I like this kind much better. The noodles were thicker, which made the use of chopsticks a little easier. I had a desire to prove that I did indeed have the dexterity to use them.

As I continued to effortlessly handle my noodles (false), I found the king oyster mushrooms. They live up to the name: they are quite large. I really enjoy the taste of mushrooms, so this was quite a delight for me. Mushroom texture is also very important: these proved to be the right amount of light and bouncy, and not slimy at all. One of my other favorite additions to the dish was the menma, or dried up bamboo shoots. The menma provided a really good crunch that really tied the whole meal together.

Overall, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Shroomed Out ramen. Vegetarian or not, the dish provides a big, savory flavor, lots of different textures, and a chance to test out your chopstick skills. My one hope for Nudo House is that they expand their vegetarian options, especially to the pho list. But, besides that, here’s hoping that you make your way there sometime soon.

The Carnivore’s Meal

The Nudo House is a descendant of the restaurant Mai Lei, which was founded in St. Louis in 1995 by a Vietnamese immigrant family leaving Vietnam during a mass emigration known as the migration of the “boat people.” After settling here, they opened their first restaurant downtown and then moved to the Loop. In 2008, their son, Qui Tran, opened Nudo House, compounding on the cooking he had learned in his mother’s restaurant as a child. He was inspired after trying ramen in Chicago with his wife while on vacation. Now, Nudo is known coast to coast, not only for its classic ramen but for its pho, a type of Vietnamese noodle dish, as well as other Asian menu items.

Classic Nudo: tonkotsu broth, shoyu, chashu pork, menma black garlic. $12.00 (Mira Nalbandian)

On this trip, I decided on the classic ramen, which is a mixture of wheat noodles layered into a complex broth with pork and egg. The broth can take hours, and sometimes even days, to make and includes menma and shoyu, or soy sauce. One taste and you can clearly understand the effort that goes into the broth. It has a funky flavor that incorporates sour, salty, and sweet flavors in one bite. 

Often the best dishes are described as coming from a peasant culture as the lower classes within a society are many times forced to prolong the few ingredients they have available as much as possible. Broths and stocks are a great example of that. The stock for soup dishes, which is the flavored water at the heart of the recipe, is made by boiling items that were destined to be thrown away. Nudo House’s ramen base is a well respected component, as Tran’s motto says: “The broth is the soul of the ramen.” Of this, we have no doubt.

As for the rest of the dish, the ramen noodles are made fresh in house, are tender without being mushy, hold up well and provide a great compliment for the broth. The pork and egg are perfectly cooked and the meat is tender without falling apart in the soup. The genius of the soups at Nudo and other great pho restaurants in the city is the careful and deliberate additions of ingredients in a timely manner, so that all the elements of the dish are married together while still maintaining their individual flavors.The serving sizes at Nudo were more than enough, so I wasn’t able to finish my bowl, but not for lack of effort. 

In hindsight, my only regret is that I wish I would’ve ordered the crab rangoon, which is described as the best in the city. For now, I’ll have to resort to my beloved Hunan Empress rangoons. But fear not, we will be back to Creve Coeur soon for another taste of Nudo House.

We were excited to go in-person to Creve Coeur’s Noodle House. We made sure to bring our masks with us as well. (Jean Nalbandian)