Flavor Profile: Mecha Noodle Bar in Fairfield

Mecha Noodle Bar

1215 Post Road, Fairfield, (203) 292-8222, mechanoodlebar.com


Family is soul to the Phams and so is soup. After running Pho Vietnam in Danbury with his family for seven years, Tony Pham has opened Mecha Noodle Bar in Fairfield's Brick Walk. What's a Vietnamese guy doing opening up a ramen bar? "Pho hits you in the soul," says Pham, "When I ate ramen, it hit me in the same way." Ramen has taken on cult status. Just look at David Chang and his Momofuku empire. It started with Chang's obsession with ramen. "It's huge in Japan," Pham says, "It's bigger than hamburgers are here."

There are many regional ramen broths, but what they all have in common are long-simmered bones. Pham is proud of the bones he uses, from Saugatuck Craft Butchery, which specializes in pasture-raised and organic meats. At Pho Vietnam those bones create a light, clear, fragrant broth. At Mecha, they create a rich, milky-colored, umami-flavored broth.

The broth for the paitan chicken is created in a three-step process. In all, the bones are simmered for 14 to 16 hours. Mecha uses fresh noodles from Sun Noodle, a Honolulu-based brand, known for "tailoring" its noodles to match regional broths. "They use a premium wheat flour, and the water is treated with reverse osmosis," Pham says. The company just opened a new noodle factory in New Jersey.

The toppings in the paitan chicken are chunks of moist, tender chicken, strips of nori, fresh scallions, bamboo shoots, and half of an amazing egg — soft-boiled until the yolk is just-congealed, and then marinated in soy.

The vegetarian ramen has a spicy, miso-curry broth that has a fruity note. The noodles are yellow and wavy. The toppings are avocado, bok choy, wood ear mushrooms and tofu. Each soup costs $12, and you can order additional toppings, like roasted pork ($4), chili oil ($1) or egg ($2). For an additional $2, you can order "kae-dama" — which gets you an extra serving of noodles. If you order kae-dama, the menu advises saving enough broth for the second set of noodles. Another tip from the menu: "Slurping is encouraged."

Mecha offers 13 craft beers, wine by the glass and bottles, and special cocktails. The cocktails were created by Jasson Arias. Pham wanted bold-flavored cocktails to go with the "in-your-face food." They are served in highballs with one very large, distictive ice cube. It's a good way to keep the ice from watering down the drink, and it looks cool. I enjoyed the Spicy Tamarind Bouquet — Bombay Sapphire gin flavored with tamarind and scotch bonnet peppers. It was sweet, sour, spicy, with tannins and yes, a bit of a floral bouquet.

To learn the art of ramen, Pham consulted with a Japanese ramen chef, and worked with executive chef Kimpak Choi to develop the menu, which seems influenced by David Chang and Momofuku. The "Snacks" portion of the menu offers bao, soft, steamed buns folded over pork belly or KFC ("Korean fried chicken), with pickled turnips and carrots and Kewpie mayonnaise (which Chang calls the best mayonnaise in the world).

Mecha's kale salad tames the raw leaves with miso vinaigrette. Bits of tempura-fried kale add crunch, amplified by the fried papadum the waitress suggests you crumble over the salad, which is also tossed with dried cranberries.

The menu also offers bigger "family meal" plates, meant to be shared with a group — like miso black cod with curry rice and crispy lotus root ($19) and kimchi fried rice ($14). An intriguing raw bar offering is scallops with frisee, grapefruit, yuzu soy and trout roe. ($15)

Pham says that in Vietnam, the best food is found in "mom and pop" places, the holes in the wall. In fact Mecha combines the Vietnamese words for "Mom" (me) and "Pop" (cha). That's his model for the 56-seat ( including the patio) restaurant, but it's no hole in the wall. Pham worked with architect Frederick Hoag to design a sleek space, using lots of wood. He wanted to evoke the night markets of Asia, "that feeling of interaction." A forest of two-by-fours hang from the ceiling.

The open kitchen is separated from the dining room by a sleek wood bar and backless Japanese ceramic stools. Down the center of the room is a long communal table made of thin black metal. Tables for two and four fill the back portion of the room. The bathroom has the cutest Asian cartoony wallpaper. Pham's cousin Cece picked it out.

Pham is very much about family (or "Pham-ly" he jokes). "My mother is an amazing person. She works so hard, as much as 10 guys." A promotional video Pham made has a photo of his mother standing on a chair to check on the 120 quarts of pho broth simmering on the stove at Pho Vietnam. His father cooks the dinner shift at Pho Vietnam, after working a full day at another job. His two sisters are involved in the business, and cousin Cece is the floor manager of Mecha. Executive chef Choi's daughter, who is studying hospitality in Las Vegas, is working as a server at Mecha this summer.

"I hope you get a sense of the passion behind the project and the soul behind our brand," he says. It's impossible not to.