If daylight saving time hasn’t helped you kick the winter blues, The Way Back has a Monday remedy: a cozy bowl of housemade ramen.
The Way Back’s Monday-only ramen menu is savory and simple, with just a single option: currently it's chicken paitan, a thick, smoky version of the Japanese noodle soup. Head chef Jon Lavelle started making ramen when he worked at New York City fine-dining Italian eatery Maialino. He and his sous-chef threw around the idea of making ramen using Italian ingredients; the resulting creation showed up occasionally on the restaurant's menu and was noted by then-Food & Wine editor-in-chief Dana Cowin as her “fav #romanramen” on Instagram.
Lavelle reincarnated the Italian ramen bowl at the Way Back for the first three weeks of February, creating a chicken-and-pork shio (or salt-based) broth that he describes as “super-clear.” But the recent cold weather inspired him to go thicker and creamier, so he turned to paitan broth, which is similar to tonkotsu, only made with chicken bones instead of pork bones.
The Way Back’s chicken paitan ramen comes with a soft-boiled egg, charred kale, marinated Heritage Foods pork belly, nori and scallions. The smoky broth is further flavored with a dark oil that Lavelle makes with sunflower oil, nori, chili flakes, black sesame seeds and charred, powdered leek tops.
Lavelle, inspired by his experience making pasta at Maialino, makes his own ramen noodles using semolina and germ flour, usually found in Italian pastas and not in Japanese noodles. The result eats like a traditional Japanese noodle even if it's not made that way.
“You still get the chewy bounciness of a ramen noodle, but you get a little more depth of flavor in the noodle because of the flours we use,” the chef explains.
Interpretations of Asian dishes aren’t rare at the Way Back. Lavelle also serves a "sushi” appetizer that comes as nori wrappers that you fill with a spread made from ground, spiced carrots — accurately described as tasting just like a spicy tuna roll.
The ramen menu will remain a Monday night special that could continue past winter, though the recipes are likely to change with the seasons. Lavelle likes the idea of bringing people in on a slower night and offering comfort food to industry workers after a long weekend.
“Initially I thought we’d do it during just the cold months, but I may keep doing it throughout the summer,” he says, since the world of ramen also includes broth-less and chilled styles. “It fits in with what we do here, but it’s not something we want to have available all the time.”
Plus, he adds, “it’s hard to produce six days a week because we're making absolutely every part of it in-house.”
The Way Back is located at 3963 Tennyson Street and is open from 5 to 10 p.m. on Monday nights. For more details, call 970-682-6888 or visit the restaurant's website.
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