Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
C.L.: I visited two of the new Ramen noodlers this week — Ramen Boy in Chinatown and Nom Nom, on 18th just south of Market. Nom Nom was hands down my favorite. Ramen Boy has a cool decor of sleek wood chairs, etc., but I found the tonkotsu broth (almost milky from all the steeped meat solids) to be surprisingly, stunningly bland — kept adding to the broth just to give it a little flavor. The roast pork was nice and tender, but the "authentic" noodles were just a little squishy. Nom Nom is a bare-bones room in a storefront that's been a carousel of quick-serves. But this ramen is serious. Great, flavorful broth, snappy noodles, crunchy kikurage mushrooms, and a band of seaweed against the side of the bowl, sending up this wonderful sea aroma. I got a basic versions called shoyu, but I'll be back for the spicy miso version. Their pork belly buns were no joke, either. Tender meat in a puffy white fold of bun with spicy mayo and crunchy lettuce. Yum-yum.
Reader: Will have to try Nom Nom soon. It sounds like they are trying to mimic David Chang's Noodle Bar, which is a good thing as it will save me trips to NYC.
C.L: It's about time. People have been imitating Chang for years now, but few have done it well. I think Doma on Callowhill was one of the first to really nail it — and I look forward to both their ramen and their buns. Glad to see it finally spread a bit more. There's little ambience at Nom Nom, but great flavors.
Reader: Saw Jen Carroll is doing a preview at Meme of course with cameras in tow. Last I read, a location has yet to be found for Concrete Blonde. Is this hype associated with Top Chef going to be hard to live up to when this new location finally opens? I found the food at 10Arts good enough but nothing that blew me away.
C.L.: I think Jen is a very good chef, though few diners got to taste what she's capable of. I am very wary of the TV-hype machine, an easy shortcut to customers vs. building that base organically by serving good food. One can't blame Jen for using the notoriety to get a boost. But dragging TV crews in tow only shines the light brighter on the protagonist. I fear she's set herself up for too many expectations. But I'm glad she plans to stick in Philly, and look forward to tasting Concrete Blonde, hopefully soon!
Reader: Had this conversation with the wife: I argued restaurants could only take as many reservations as would fill their inside space during warm months because of possible inclement weather. Ergo, even tough-to-get-into restaurants with sidewalk tables would probably be able to accommodate some walk-up traffic on nice days, even if reservation list was full. The wife disagreed. Who is right?
C.L.: Tell your wife I agree with you. Few restaurants bet their reservation books on the weather, until around mid-afternoon of the day, so they typically won't take a table in advance for outdoor seating. They might note your "preference." This brings up an important point. Restaurants often have seats reserved for walk-ins. So, that "no" over the phone (and on Open Table) does not reflect what you'll find in person. Definitely worth trying if you're trying to get to a particular place on any given day.
Reader: Went to Xfinity Live for pregame before the Flyers' series win Sunday. Went to the Victory beer hall and while the beer was good my pastrami reuben was a soggy mess of chewy meat and the homemade chips were overcooked and unseasoned. Stick to the beer.
C.L.: Thank you for making this trip. I've yet to bring myself to do it — even though I was at a game recently.
Join Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan for a live online chat Tuesdays at 2 p.m. at http://go.philly.com/phillytalk