Chef and restaurateur Edwin Zoe is a self-professed noodle nerd, and the slurp-worthy dishes at Zoe Ma Ma and Chimera in Boulder are tangible, edible proof that his carb obsession is worthwhile. On June 1, Zoe opened a new noodle haven for takeout service: Chimera Ramen, the first of two adjoining fast-casual concepts taking over the 10th Street space previously occupied by his Pan Asian restaurant, Chimera.
The reincarnation of two-year-old Chimera, which shuttered on March 17 after state-mandated dine-in closures were put into effect, almost didn’t come to fruition. Ten-year-old Zoe Ma Ma, Zoe’s first restaurant, remained open for takeout at its Boulder and Denver locations but experienced significant revenue loss. The discouraging state of the Colorado restaurant industry left Zoe wondering if he should reconsider his plans for Chimera. “On March 16, I was sitting at home wondering what we should do,” Zoe says. “I realized that a lot of restaurants won’t make it through this. I wondered, ‘Do we just fold, too?’ But no, we have to follow through with our plans.”
Zoe’s plan includes opening a second restaurant—a pho and bánh mì spot called Pho Mi—in the renovated space on July 1. Both spots are equipped with tables for dine-in service, but will offer just takeout for now. With the original Zoe Ma Ma located just 20 feet away, Zoe hopes to create a Little Asia, a mini district on Pearl Street. “It’s something I think will be great for Boulder,” he says.
Back to the food: The four brothy bowls on the menu at Chimera Ramen are inspired by a particular type of ramen Zoe and Chimera general manager Brodie McNeil fell in love with during a recent culinary research trip to Japan, Vietnam, and Singapore. In Japan, the duo ate at Rishiri Ramen Miraku in Yokohama. The shop is famous for its shoyu ramen, featuring a soy sauce-based broth infused with kombu (Japanese kelp). “The flavor haunts me,” Zoe says. “I knew then I wanted kombu to be the focus of our broths.”
For Chimera Ramen’s soups, Zoe sources sustainably farmed kombu, or what he calls the “unsung hero of the veggie world” for its easy-to-farm qualities and unami-packed taste. First bites of the shop’s Miso Happy ramen reveal a wonderfully creamy soup with full-bodied flavor from a combination of kombu, miso, and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). Though it is a meatless rendition, it has all the qualities of a rich bone broth, leaving a comforting oily sheen on the lips as you sip.
The noodles in that bowl—and all of Chimera Ramen’s dishes—are made on-site using a special machine that mixes, kneads, and pulls the noodle dough to springy perfection; the copy-machine-size device (lovingly nicknamed Yama) is set up in the restaurant’s window so patrons can watch the action. “I believe a great ramen shop must be dedicated to making their own noodles,” Zoe says. “If not, it’s like a pizza shop using frozen pizza dough.”
The Miso Happy ramen also comes with a skewer of ultra-tender chicken thigh yakitori, marinated in soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and mirin before being charred on the grill. A soft-boiled egg, spicy bean sprouts, marinated bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms, and a sheet of crispy kombu garnish the dish. The shop’s concise menu also includes pork belly and vegetable ramen, along with a small selection of bao and light vegetable sides; yes, you can still order the house favorite chile-oil-laced smashed cucumber salad from Chimera’s original menu.
When Pho Mi opens in July, look forward to a menu of four bánh mì and four noodle soups inspired by Zoe’s travels in Vietnam. The sandwiches will come loaded with classic ingredients like pork and pickled veggies as well as more playful items (think: a riff on a po’boy), and the broths for the noodle soups will be prepared with the same slow-simmered care as the versions at Chimera Ramen.
Until then, the ramen shop is offering DIY ramen kits (which include cook-at-home noodles, broth, and toppings) for pick up and delivery to addresses within a half-mile radius of the restaurant from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily; it does not work with third-party delivery apps, due to the exorbitant fees they charge restaurants. All of the kits are priced between $9 to $11, part of Zoe’s efforts to keep his menu affordable during these unprecedented times. For that and all of the above, we say all hail the noodle nerd.
2014 10th St., Boulder