Calling all Detroit pasta-holics: NOODL is a local pop-up restaurant that’s worth the carbs.
Created by Chef Steven Reaume, NOODL is focused on homemade pasta and sauces with inventive twists. This winter, Reaume is hosting “4X Pop-Up Series,” focusing on four pastas paired with four sauces at four events over a four month period in Detroit.
I visited the most recent experience, “Ragù,” at POP, located on the top floor of Detroit’s Checker Bar, where Steven paired four flavors of rigatoni with four types of stewed sauces.
Guests walked up a narrow staircase that led to a candle-lit dining room, which helped build the excitement. After they were seated, guests were served cafeteria-style.
Rigatoni, which is tube-shaped pasta, has ridges running down its side. The name comes from the Italian word rigato (“striped”). The dough was handmade using semolina, durum and all-purpose flours. The shapes were then machine extruded. It is unusual trying fresh rigatoni. The texture was firm and the consistency was thick. Chef Steven said a properly cooked noodle still has a little bite to it, and the pasta should compliment the sauce that it is served in.
The $6 pasta bowls, especially the Freshwater Fish Ragù and Lamb Shank Ragù, were worth the wait. The Freshwater Fish Ragù used lemon rigatoni, accentuated with nocerella olives and spicy breadcrumbs. The dish’s daring sauce did not shy away from strong, bold and zesty flavors, which paired well with the mild Michigan Walleye. The brine from the olives highlighted the lemon rigatoni’s acid. It was a big move.
The Lamb Shank Ragù used tarragon rigatoni covered in a rich stew made with white wine, stock and spices. The stew, originally the lamb shank’s braising liquid, was simmered for hours, growing exponentially more concentrated, more flavorful and more layered. The lamb was so tender, it almost dissolved in my mouth. Anchovies added during the braising process brought out the meat’s depth and the gremolata, an aromatic mix of lemon, garlic and parsley, spiked the bowl even more.
The gritty Chocolate Polenta Pudding Cake was served delightfully warm and each bite lingered with soft cinnamon breathes. Orange zest and freshly ground black pepper were also added.
It’s important to note that dining at a pop-up cannot be compared to a traditional restaurant. Pop-ups have a limited time span to make it right while working in an unfamiliar space. Forecasting how much food to cook is critical because it cannot be sold the next day. Anything can happen, and some imperfection is expected. There will always be kinks to iron out, but in the moment, when instinct and knowledge crystallize in the heat of service, magic is created.
“Pesto,” his next event, will be in February and will focus on four types of gnocchi (pasta dumplings) and ground sauces. “Fra Diavolo,” his last event, to be held in March, will showcase four types of fussili (corkscrew-shaped) and spicy sauces. The menu and location for both events is to be announced. If “Ragù,” his latest event, is an indicator of “Pesto” or “Fra Diavolo,” stalk the NOODL web and social media sites because the food is good.
Talking to Chef Reaume, the current excitement for food in Detroit is unlike anything he has seen, and that’s saying something as he came to Detroit in 1986, where Romanian women at Saluté (now occupied by La Dolce Vita), taught him how to make Italian cuisine.
NOODL delivered and I am looking forward to tasting the same kind of magic during “Pesto” and “Fra Diavolo.” For more information about NOODL’s upcoming pop-up dinner events, visit their Facebook page and website.