This ain’t yo’ mama-san’s ramen.
Chef Him Uy de Baron is one of the first chefs I interviewed years ago as a fledgling food writer. Our initial meeting was in 2003 where I boldly asked him, “Is ‘Him’ really your real name?” and he shot back, “Yes!” We’ve kept in touch since then. I ask for his advice (mostly cooking-related), and at one point, he got me a restaurant consultancy job. Him is one of my favorite chefs (yes, I’ve got my favorites) and I can’t be happier that he’s finally opening his own restaurant.
It was early last year when Him mentioned to me that he’d decided to focus on a ramen restaurant. That focus is now embodied in Nomama Artisanal Ramen, or simply, Nomama. “Wait, Him, why ‘Nomama’? Because there’s ‘Nopapa’?” I tease him. “I really liked the sound of it, it sounds Japanese and playful, hip and intriguing.” He remarks. “Plus, it’s sort of a play on ‘not your mama’s ramen.’”
Nomama is concrete and wood, echoes of the Japanese aesthetics of simplicity and functionality. A spacious, straight-up space designed by architect Carlo Calma, it’s made even more so by the clear glass windows, and the almost asymmetrical beams criss-crossing round the room rouse ravenous feelings, such is their flux and flow.
Meals here begin with what Him calls Raw Compositions, uncooked food elements fashioned into a composed dish. Consider the Raw Wagyu Beef Tataki, a Japanese take on beef tartare. Locally-bred Wagyu meat – yes, it exists – sits sousing in sesame oil and a sundry of seasonings. A glen of green sits alongside minced spring onions and alfalfa sprouts. Corresponding components of pungent and earthy are the backdrop to beef so tender it prods the tongue to tease and pry. For crunch: sweet potato chips.
The second Raw Composition is the Kilawin ala Japonaise, a stunning contrast of hues and textures. Cubes of raw tangigue (also tanigue) flit amidst cooked shrimp, and oh, watch out – globes of cherry tomato roll in as pods of edamame (soy beans) tumble forth. Their mad and playful dash has coated them in a sheen of light Japanese mayonnaise, every spoonful, every bite different from the bliss before it.
For the main course, Him offers me a choice of three ramens: I order them all.
I begin with the most flavorful of the lot, the real kicker, if you will. The Ox Tongue Ramen is made from a lengua (beef tongue) broth allowed to simmer for a good long time. Him is a staunch proponent of slow cooking and he’s never one to rush cooking times. This unrushed process has imbued the soft meat with an intricate flow of flavors, the taste equivalent of fingers deftly playing up and down a piano’s keys: salty, beefy, spice, then burn.
The Thai Green Curry Ramen with Chicken is a thicker broth heavily spiked with fish sauce (patis). Its overtones of gata (coconut milk) highlight the meatiness of the pork, and the liquid’s heat endows this soup with revivifying qualities. The leafy greens and disparate pods of peas (“Give peas a chance!” Him chortles), contribute crunch and splash color on an otherwise neutral soup-scape.
The house ramen, properly called the Nomama Ramen is set down. It’s chashu pork in broth and soft-boiled eggs. There’s an audible sharp intake of breath and it’s only when all heads turn to me that I realize it was I who gasped. Lord have mercy, that egg. Dual halves of a magnificent whole, their bellies display a shimmering reservoir of liquid yolk. “Oh. God. Him!” I point at gold flowing, beckoning to me. “That egg!” I utter in breathy reverence. “Yeah,” Him chuckles. “I work very hard on those, cooking them carefully and slowly.”
Ramen forgotten for now, I scoop an entire half of an egg onto my spoon and into my mouth. Biting down slowly – ever so slowly – the half-cooked yolk collapses and floods in my mouth. It’s the sweetest sort of liquid redemption, its salty viscosity sends a shiver down my spine. So I take another spoonful, this time of the soup. It has the tang and tingle of a multitude of seasonings – garlic, ginger, sake and soy sauce – playing against the murmur of a pork broth.
Tonight is a dinner for feedback, for eating and sharing. The Raw Compositions that begin tonight’s repast are solid, a profusion of possible mouthfuls and permutations. Every ingredient on those plates has a noble purpose, one that is proudly served.
Because Nomama is not yet open, Him is still fine-tuning and finessing a few components of key dishes. I taste and reflect. The noodles are exceptional, toothsome strands of delight. But I ask Him to consider pulling back on the fish sauce in the Thai green curry ramen, and we discuss what that “certain something” might be that will elevate the other ramens to perfection. Him’s stints working in Tokyo kitchens have affirmed his ardor for ramen and from that, naturally, for Japanese food. “There’s so much you can do with ramen,” he enthuses. “It’s noodles and broth, so combining flavors makes sense, plus Pinoys are very familiar with it already.”
I have always had tremendous belief in Him’s talent and creative fire. His upcoming restaurant is a testament to his beliefs and practices as a chef. He’s locally sourcing as many ingredients as he can, and organic when possible. His Wagyu beef is from Bukidnon and the chicken is free-range. Sourced from a private farm in Laguna, the pork‘s high quality is evident when paired with Him’s homemade curry. Originally made with short ribs, this is a dish that’s got guts and a full-throated flavor. I enjoy it immensely with the Kabocha squash and asparagus but next time I also want rice with it.
“This is the only dessert I know how to make, Lori,” says Him as he sets down the final plate. Him calls it a “KitKat-like dessert,” and frankly, if this was the only sweet thing I knew how to make, I’d be in fine form. Him won’t tell me what’s in it but it possesses a crunch that makes me giggle and a creaminess that induces back-of-the-head eye-rolls. I taste peanut butter in there somewhere and chocolate too. Whatever it is, as in all of Him’s creations, these are concepts working in context creating flavorful – and most memorable – complexities.
Back to Nomama
FIXED MENU for the soft launching during the month of August:
Please call for reservations.
(02) 542. 2558
AUGUST 19 AND 20 (P750.00 per head)
Kilawin ala Japonaise
Soba salad with salmon Tataki
Beef Curry rib Gyoza
Smoked Teriyaki Pork Belly
Choice of 3 kinds of Ramen
Home made Kit Kat Bar
AUGUST 25, 26 AND 27 (P750.00 per head)
Raw Wagyu Beef Tataki with Sweet potato chips
Soft Shell Crab salad with Nomama Dairy Dressing
Duo of Gyoza Classic Pork and Mushroom
Snapper with Orange Gastrique and a Shiso and Cherry Tomato Salad
Short Rib curry with Roasted Kabocha
Choice of 3 kinds of Ramen
Tiramisu of Wasabi and White Chocolate