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Bob Ramen Expands Into Bistro Setting With A Bigger Menu In Plainville

'Welcome to our crazy, fun, happy, loud, rock & roll ramen home," reads the painted sandwich-board sign outside the Bob Ramen in Plainville, signifying big changes to the space at 50 W. Main St.

For four years, Patrick Miceli's 50 West welcomed loyal neighborhood crowds for upscale dishes with locally sourced ingredients, an extensive wine list and weekend brunch. Miceli went on to partner with Chris Parrott to open vintage cocktail bar Little River Restoratives on Hartford's Capitol Avenue in late 2015, and about a year later, the two launched Bob Ramen next door.

The demand for Bob's Japanese noodle bowls in Hartford was instant — "twice as busy as our best-case scenario right now," Parrott said at the time — and it prompted Miceli to make a decision, moving forward with an idea the two had been considering for several months.

After the final dinner service on New Year's Eve, Miceli shuttered 50 West and spent the next several weeks preparing to reopen it as the partners' second Bob Ramen, debuting the new restaurant on Jan. 27. The bistro retains a fashionable touch, but with many design elements that evoke the feel of the Hartford original, like slate-blue paint and portraits of admired musicians (David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Freddie Mercury).

Where Hartford's menu is limited (four varieties of ramen, gyoza and steamed pork buns), Plainville's larger kitchen and seating space allowed for expanded offerings. "We're treating Hartford as more of a Bob Ramen express," Miceli said. "Because of the [Plainville] infrastructure, we're able to expand on the concept and have more of an izakaya model, like a full-blown restaurant."

New shareable plates ($5 to $9) are popular, like chicken wings in sake chili sauce, tofu lettuce cups; steamed sliders with kimchi, pork belly or raw salmon; fried dumplings stuffed with pork, chicken or mushrooms and yakitori skewers with spicy marinated beef, fried white fish and teriyaki-marinated portobellos. A vegetable goma-ae features marinated cucumbers in sesame vinaigrette with Chinese watercress, chili oil, chili threads and crisp fried shallots.

Chef Craig Hutchinson, who joined the team in December to develop the new menu, worked to diversify the dishes by adding rice bowls to complement the ramen, in chicken, pork belly, miso vegetable and vegan varieties.

"Everybody was trying to call us a true ramen shop, like in Tokyo or New York, and we needed to separate ourselves from that right away," he said.

The Plainville menu offers an assortment of Asian flavors: Hawaiian-style salmon poke, with rice, raw fish, fried garlic and shallot, seaweed and cilantro mayo; a Japanese and Vietnamese-influenced tofu rice bowl with raw egg yolk, okonomiyaki sauce, bonito flakes, nuoc cham and furikake and a Korean-inspired bulgogi kimchi rice bowl with spicy marinated beef, scallions, marinated cucumber and carrot, watercress and bean sprouts.

A Bethany native, Hutchinson brings a wealth of experience, having been part of the opening team at the former Ribelle in Brookline, Mass., and most recently, Gristmill in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood. In Connecticut, he previously served as executive chef at New Haven's Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, and partnered with colleague Alex Lishchynsky to create [oink], a pop-up concept that hosts special dinners at venues throughout the state. Hutchinson connected with Miceli and Parrott through [oink]'s ramen-themed pop-up event at Little River Restoratives last year.

Hutchinson has also reworked the four ramen offerings, using locally raised and sustainable acorn-fed pork products (bones and fat) from Connecticut's Walden Hill in the pork version and creating vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options for each one of the seven "bowl" entrees, with ingredients like vegetable-based broth, rice noodles and tamari.

"You could come in with a hundred different dietary restrictions and there's something on this menu for you," he said.

All bowls (ramen and rice) are $12; a best-selling pu-pu platter ($25 for one, $45 for two) features a sampling of appetizers and a bowl (or two.) Add-ons like extra noodles, rice, broth, egg, protein and vegetables are $1 to $3.

With a full bar in Plainville, Parrott gets to exercise his mixology prowess. The bar features six $9 cocktails incorporating sake or shochu, and guests have been open and receptive to the selection of sakes, including flavored styles from an Oregon producer, he said.

"We sell a lot more sake than I thought we would," Parrott said. "So now I have to go back and re-evaluate now how far we can really go with this stuff, because no one's batted an eye at what we're doing so far."

Bob Ramen plans to host multicourse sake dinners, along with other special events, and Miceli would like to bring back weekend brunches at some point. Happy hour runs daily from 4 to 6 p.m., with discounts on drinks and snacks like yakitori, sliders and wings.

Miceli said the response to the new concept has been positive.

"It's a lot more fun," he said. "There's such a good regular support base anyway from being here for four years, but now it's at a price point that's 30 or 40 percent of what it used to be, so now I'm seeing people multiple times a week."

"People are so much more responsive to what we're doing than we thought they'd be," Parrott said. "We could've gotten crazier [with the] opening if we had the time. ... Now that we have our feet under us, now that we know what we're doing and how the community's reacting, we want to do more."

BOB RAMEN, 50 W. Main St., Plainville, is open Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. 860-351-5066, facebook.com/bobramenplainville.

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