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Jan 22, 2018
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Posts Tagged ‘Qui Tran’

Best New Restaurants: No. 5 – Nudo House

Friday, December 1st, 2017

To be the best, everything matters – atmosphere, service and food. Here are St. Louis’ 12 best new restaurants of 2017.

 

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Nudo House, the noodle shop from Mai Lee’s Qui Tran and Marie-Anne Velasco, was years in the making. When instant gratification is the norm – we want what we want, and we want it yesterday – it’s nice to be reminded that some things are worth the wait.

Unlike the voluminous menus found at many Asian restaurants, Nudo keeps things simple with a handful of cold apps like spring rolls and kimchi, vegetables sides and two bahn mi variations. Four versions of pho, the Vietnamese noodle soup Tran’s Mai Lee is famous for, are also on the menu.

 

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But the star of the show at Nudo is the ramen, the traditional Japanese noodle dish that inspires untold obsessive devotion in so many diners. In those seeming eons of R&D, Tran and Velasco delved headfirst into the world of ramen, sampling versions from across the country and hosting pop-ups around town to keep up interest.

At Nudo, there are four different versions that build on the basics, melding tradition with a distinctive creative bent. Standouts include the vegetarian Shroomed Out ramen, which deploys meaty, earthy king oyster mushrooms to delicious effect, and perhaps the ultimate in cross-cultural comfort cuisine, the Hebrew Hammer, a rich and creamy combo of tender ramen noodles and chicken schmaltz. Tuck in with a bowl and take your time.

Photos by Izaiah Johnson

Matt Sorrell is staff writer at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
• Sauce Magazine: Best New Restaurants 2017

• Review: Nudo House

• First Look: Nudo House in Creve Coeur

First Look: Nudo House in Creve Coeur

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017

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After years of anticipation, Nudo House is ready to make its debut. The ramen and pho shop from co-owners Qui Tran and Marie-Anne Velasco is slated to open this weekend on Friday, July 28 or Saturday, July 29.

Tran, whose family also owns Mai Lee in Brentwood, first dropped hints about Nudo in 2014, and the restaurant location was officially announced at 11423 Olive Blvd., in Creve Coeur at the end of 2015. Since then, Tran and Velasco have hosted pop-ups to test recipes and drum up anticipation while they did extensive renovations.

 

Upon entering the 2,300-square-foot space, customers step up to the counter and place their order, then grab a seat and watch as their meals are prepared in the open kitchen. The menu includes spring rolls, a few salads and banh mi, but the staples are the pho and ramen bowls.

The four 3-1-Pho options include beef, chicken, shrimp or a combination of all three. Four ramens are also available: a traditional pork tonkotsu, a spicy miso pork, a chicken option and a mushroom-based vegetarian bowl.

Meals can end with a sweet treat, too. Tran and Velasco installed a soft-serve machine where they will offer rotating flavors like coconut and pandan leaf, passion fruit, lychee or mango.

Nudo will be open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Here’s a First Look at what to expect from this highly anticipated noodle house:

 

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Photos by Michelle Volansky 

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine. 

Related Content
The Scoop: Qui Tran to open ramen shop Nudo in Creve Coeur

What I Do: Marie-Anne Velasco of Nudo House

The Scoop: Mai Lee’s Qui Tran moves closer to opening a ramen shop

What I Do: Qui Tran of Mai Lee

What I Do: Marie-Anne Velasco of Nudo House

Monday, October 10th, 2016

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After more than 15 years in Chicago fine dining and the kitchens at The Ritz-Carlton and The Chase Park Plaza, Marie-Anne Velasco will open Nudo House with Mai Lee’s Qui Tran this fall. So how does a former Canadian Culinary Olympian wind up launching a ramen shop with St. Louis’ king of pho? A shared passion for noodle perfection. Here, Velasco shares her formative ramen experiences, her hippie ways and why Nudo must have a soft serve machine.

 

St. Louis, then and now
“It’s a totally different food city. I used to live on that block between the old Niche and Sidney Street. We used to see Kevin (Nashan) all the time or we’d go to Niche for drinks before we had kids. I would just sit there and think, ‘Wow, if only these places were open (everywhere in St. Louis).’ … From five years ago to now, it’s exploded.”

Free spirits of Chesterfield
“(My husband and I) are kind of closet hippies at home. We grow our own vegetables; we make our own kombucha; we make our own yogurt. We try to make and grow everything that we can.”

Aha moment
“It was just this unctuous, thick – it didn’t even feel like broth but everyone was calling it broth, and the noodles were chewy and the egg was custardy. Everything was just a perfect scenario of a food experience. It’s weird when you have that first experience. You just try and chase it.”

Ramen Revolution
“Ippudo (a New York City ramen restaurant) reset my brain, too. After working in all these different ramen places and getting to know the ingredients and the bones and what the procedures are, we sat down at this place and I went, ‘Wait a minute – I don’t know how they did this.’”

Screaming for ice cream
“I’m so excited about it! When you’re in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles after you go and have ramen, you have to go and have soft serve because it isn’t just soft serve. It’s like green tea, it’s like mango, it’s like coconut – all the things you think go hand in hand with Japanese flavors. That salty richness needs a balance between citrus and something sweet.”

Hungry business partners
“(Qui and I) are very meticulous about what we want and how we want it done. At the same time we both have an open mindset. We’re both easygoing, but at the same time, we want it done properly. … And we both have appetites that are never-ending. It’s almost embarrassing.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

The Scoop: Qui Tran to open ramen shop Nudo in Creve Coeur

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

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Ready your chopsticks because Nudo, the ramen venture by Mai Lee’s Qui Tran and Marie-Anne Velasco is a go. Having signed a lease for space at 11423 Olive Blvd. in Creve Coeur, which formerly housed an Einstein Bagels, Tran plans to start renovation in February and open the highly anticipated restaurant in late spring or early summer 2016.

“We’ve done a lot of hard work, a lot of research and reached out to the right people,” Tran said. “When you make pho, there’s one basic way to do it. Some regions use fish sauce and some don’t, but there’s a basic way. With ramen, it’s corner to corner.”

As a result, the menu will feature Nudo’s own style of pork tonkotsu-style ramen and spicy miso ramen. Tran and Velasco are also developing a vegetarian version and a “schmaltz ramen” made with chicken. St. Louis’ king of pho will also offer the rich and savory soup at Nudo.

Located near Granite City Food and Brewing and the forthcoming Five Star Burger, the area is ideal for Tran’s 50- to 60-seat, fast-casual venture. “It’s a residential and business area,” Tran said. “It’s an area craving local flare.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

The Scoop: Mai Lee’s Qui Tran moves closer to opening a ramen shop

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

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St. Louis’ ramen lovers, prepare to geek out. About this time last year, we salivated when Mai Lee’s Qui Tran discussed opening a noodle house. Now, Tran is moving closer to that reality with his eye on a 2016 opening.

Tran recently invited Shigetoshi Nakamura, head of research and development at Sun Noodle, to help him with recipe development, as reported by Feast. “I’ve been trying to get him here since last September,” said Tran, who plans to use Sun Noodles at his upcoming shop. “It’s the No. 1 fresh ramen noodle company. They supply 200 different noodles to over 500 different restaurants.”

Tran doesn’t need 200 types of noodles at his to-be-named noodle shop; he just needs two or three. “We like not overly thick, but a good chew and moderately wavy,” he said. Currently, he is looking to prepare five styles of ramen, including shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt) and spicy miso (fermented bean paste). While ramen will be the focus at the noodle house, Tran plans to offer pho, which is gluten-free, and a monthly noodle special to highlight soups from countries throughout Asia and the Pacific islands.

Another piece of the puzzle is Tran’s executive chef and partner on the ramen project, Marie-Anne Velasco, a Filipino native who has taught at L’Ecole Culinaire in St. Louis and at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. “She just moved back to St. Louis to help with the project,” Tran said.

He hopes to sign a lease by late 2015 and open in the first half of 2016. Tran and Velasco are considering six different locations for their shop. “We’re looking west,” he said. “It won’t go further than Chesterfield.”

R&D has taken the duo on noodle slurp-fests from coast to coast, and Velasco staged for chef Takashi Yagihashi at his Chicago restaurants Tikashi and Slurping Turtle. “We’ve been very diligent with this. We’ve reached out to a lot of people, eaten a lot of ramen and developed a lot of recipes,” Tran said. “I could have opened last year, but that’s not who we are or what we do. I don’t want to just do it. I want to do it and be the best at what we do.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

What I Do: Qui Tran of Mai Lee

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

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Qui Tran, 36, has become the face of cult favorite Mai Lee, but he’s quick to credit his mother, Lee Tran, with the restaurant’s success. “The restaurant wasn’t doing so well,” recalled Tran of Mai Lee’s early days as a Chinese restaurant. “So my mother said, ‘Let’s do Vietnamese food.’ She took the first step in ’85 when there was not a Vietnamese restaurant in sight.” While he reveres his mother, the cuisine of his native country and life in America, there are some things that St. Louis’ king of pho can’t embrace – like ramen burgers. Here, Tran tells all.

Why did your parents pick St. Louis when they immigrated to the U.S.?
When we arrived, they didn’t speak any English. My dad said he remembers circling NY. They sent us to STL.

Where did you grow up?
The Hill. There’s my love for Italian food right there.

How old were you when you started working at Mai Lee?
Eight. I was translator, dishwasher. You grow up kind of fast. That’s why I don’t believe in child labor laws. Put ’em all to work! It builds character. I turned out OK, I think.

Is your mom still the primary cook at Mai Lee?
Yeah, she’s the exec. Mom and I finalize things. We do all the master sauces. If she’s not here, I’m doing it. People ask me, “Are you opening another one?” I’m like, “Not a Mai Lee.” It’s too difficult to replicate.

What’s the best-seller at Mai Lee?
I wanna say pho.

What’s one thing you wish people would understand about pho?
It takes a long time to cook – 10 to 12 hours. They need time to caress it.

How many pounds of noodles does the restaurant cook in a week?
For the rice noodles, we go through at least 300 pounds. And that’s a dry noodle when it weighs nothing.

There are more than 200 numbered items on the menu. Do you know what dish corresponds to each number?
Sometimes I’m like, “What is that?” I gotta look it up.

What would happen if you took off the numbers?
There would be a lot more Vietnamese-speaking people in St. Louis.

How do you feel about ramen burgers?
If I want ramen, I want ramen. If I want a burger, I want a good old American burger. Some trends are fine, but that one – I’m not interested.

Who’s the most famous person to walk through the door?
We had (Jerry) Seinfeld in here. We’re not like Pappy’s where you get all the famous people. (Pappy’s owner) Mike Emerson gets Wolverine.

If you were to open another restaurant, what would it be?
I’m working on a concept: a fun, little, casual noodle house.

What’s your timeline?
I’m taking my time – maybe a year and a half from now.

What’s your advice for non-Asians on using chopsticks?
The bottom chopstick never moves. You have to brace it between your thumb and index finger. Sometimes people crisscross. Sometimes people clamp. Sometimes people spread it out. I crisscross. There’s no wrong way as long as the bottom one is the stable one. It’s like the pivot foot when you’re playing basketball.

Do you play basketball?
I’m Asian. We don’t play basketball.

Do you play any sports?
I’m a traditional martial artist. I have multiple black belts. In this high-stress environment, that’s my outlet. People are always like, “Why do you smile so much at work?” I say, “Well, because I get to punch the bag at night.”

-photo by Ashley Gieseking

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