Chewing the Fat Over Cheu Noodle Bar with Ben Puchowitz

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Ben Puchowitz Photo: Cheu Noodle Bar

Cheu Noodle Bar, the pop-up-spawned new venture from Matyson chef Ben Puchowitz and his childhood chum Shawn Darragh, is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings on our horizon. And as its opening nears — it’s just a few weeks away — Grub caught up with Puchowitz to chew the proverbial fat with him about the debut. And in doing so, we also got some details on what to expect once it’s officially up and running. Keep reading to see what he had to say.

The question everyone's asking is when will Cheu Noodle Bar open?

Ben Puchowtiz: Shawn seems to think we’ll be ready by March 25. We could possibly be doing a soft opening that week. I think that’s pushing it a little bit, but it’s possible if we get all of our stuff together.

Have you done your health inspections and everything?

B.P.: Oh yeah. We’re, like, I’d say about 90 percent of the way there. The contractors will be finished by the end of next week. And then L&I; is coming for a final inspection either next week, or the following. All we need at this point is tables and chairs.

What sort of things do you still have to get situated?

B.P.: We’re pretty much there. Right now, it’s all about me and Shawn getting our shit together. There’s some little things. Aesthetics, and basic flow of the restaurant kind of stuff.

How much work went into getting the space ready?

B.P.: We totally gutted the place. It was a restaurant before, but it was pretty disgusting in there. The last tenant didn’t get along very well with the landlord. I guess they had a falling out. And they left the place in shambles. It looked like someone went in and took a sledgehammer to everything.

What’s the layout of the restaurant going to be like?

B.P.: We’re hoping to get, like, 30 to 32 seats. Most of which will be at a big L-shaped bar. We’ll have about 12 seats at tables. So that’s, like, 20 at the bar.

When you get Cheu open, how will you divvy up the workload? Will you stay at Matyson, and have someone else running Cheu?

B.P.: It’s my first time doing this. Ultimately, my plan is to remain at Matyson. I’ll be at Cheu predominately until I feel like it’s ready to be left alone. Or vice versa with Matyson. I’m not afraid of working long hours to make sure everything’s running well. I have a sous chef at Matyson, Adam Willner, who’s been with me for five years. He knows exactly how things run. When I’m off, he runs the show. He does a really good job, and I’m confident that he can run the place just like if I was there.

How’s the menu shaping up? Will the dishes be similar to what you served at your pop-ups?

B.P.: I looked at all the old pop-up menus, and I took some stuff from those. I’ve been working on the menu since last November. It’s been changing and evolving since then. The set up will be very similar to what we were doing in the pop-ups. The first section is "Vegetables," which won’t necessarily be vegetarian dishes as much as it will be dishes with vegetables in the lead role. The next section is going to be “Snacks,” and that’s basically going to be appetizers, like rice cakes, breads, dumplings and stuff like that. And then there’s “Noodles.” We’ll have a cold noodle dish, a couple hot noodle dishes, and four or so soups. There’s also going to be a section called “Goodies,” which will be things like dumplings and some surprises that you can add on to your noodles.

Is it going to be straight-forward ramen-style dishes, or are you going to be casting a wider noodle net?

B.P.: The dishes are influenced by lots of different cultures. There’s going to be matzah balls in one of them. I recently learned how to do hand-torn noodles, so I’m going to be doing a hand-torn noodle dish with lamb necks. It’s not your standard stuff. I’ve tested most of the dishes out by sneaking them on to Matyson’s tasting menus.

Do worry about this noodle moment we’re enjoying may pass in the near future?

B.P.: I don’t believe there will ever come a time when people won’t enjoy a hot bowl of noodle soups.