Back to the basics
Most people think of ramen as the salty noodle packets favored by college students, but all over the country, a number of restaurants are proving that ramen isn’t just for cash-strapped undergrads. In the past few years, food professionals began realizing ramen’s potential, much to the delight of the hungry masses. Noodle bars have been popping up in food hubs all over the country, and the once low-brow fare has become a full-blown foodie trend.
Boru Noodle Bar on lower Broadway in Newport brings the movement to Aquidneck Island. Started in 2013, Boru is the brainchild of local chefs Casey Shea and Steve Lucier, former co-workers who decided to team up. They were inspired to open a ramen restaurant from a colleague in the New York food scene.
Ramen noodles are a staple in Japanese cuisine, but the noodles themselves are actually Chinese. Until about 1950, ramen was called shina shoba (‘shina’ is a phonetic spelling of China). Instant ramen was invented in 1958 and made its way to the U.S. in the 1970s.
Newport’s take on the food fad is a tiny place tucked between a smoke shop and a bar. The dining area doesn’t exceed 20 feet square, and my eye was immediately drawn to the colorful menu board. Bare walls and minimal décor keep the focus on the food, and there are three small tables and about 16 bar seats spread across three walls. Boru has an open kitchen so patrons can watch the noodle artists cooking their meals behind the scenes. It’s a no-frills, order-at-the-counter kind of place and probably not the best choice for a big celebration, but it’s a welcome addition for noodle enthusiasts.
The menu is also small and focuses on the basics. Each of the five varieties of ramen bowls features a different meat with complementary vegetables and sauces. The menu also features a dry ramen dish with spicy cashews. The Alentejana Ramen combines little necks, kale and chili oil, while the Spicy Miso has pork, corn and bean sprouts. The restaurant may not be a great option for vegetarians, as aside from the dry ramen, their only vegetable dish was not available on the dinner menu. Boru also has five appetizers that include Kimchee (spicy pickled vegetables) and spicy kale salad.
I can personally vouch for the crispy Brussels sprouts appetizer, served with a Kimchee puree and a soy caramel sauce. For an entrée, I ordered the house ramen, which features the noodles, two healthy slabs of pork, napa (Chinese cabbage) and half a hard-boiled egg in a savory, salty broth. I was amazed at how well the broth and noodles soaked up the flavor of the pork. Each bowl comes with a Chinese soup spoon and chopsticks, and eating the noodles can be pretty arduous (and potentially embarrassing). The biggest challenge of the night was trying to eat the egg with chopsticks (I gave up and scarfed it down with the spoon).
This isn’t the ramen you buy in 50-packs from Sam’s Club; the noodles at Boru are the real deal, and the staff clearly knows what they’re doing. By the time I left the restaurant, there was scarcely a seat to be had and there was a substantial line of eager customers waiting, both good signs for a new restaurant. Do yourself a favor and stop by, but remember to hit the ATM and the liquor store before you go because Boru is cash only and BYOB (they do have their own ATM inside).
Boru Noodle Bar is located at 36 Broadway, Newport, RI. Their hours are 5 – 10pm Tuesday – Thursday and 11:30am – 10pm Friday – Sunday (Closed Mondays).