Post opening tweaks are commonplace during the first few months after a restaurant's opening. With Mecha’s minor changes completed, it now firmly fills the belly rumbling void of Southeast Asian Noodles and street food, popularizing Ramen, Pho and South East Asian comfort food.
Owner Tony Pham, who also owns Pho Vietnam in Danbury, saw an opportunity in Fairfield to capture the hearts and hungry stomachs of the Fairfield U student bodies by opening a Ramen noodle bar. This small, but cozy, space is an architecturally clean, eye pleasing mix of Modern Asian décor...with a long community table in the center and block style tables around its perimeter. There is some additional seating circling the "bar" with colorful Asian ceramic stools adding some pop and a touch of elegance to this casual space. Pham is committed to keeping his two restaurants a "family affair," and you may be seated, served, or cooked for, by one of his family members!
When I first visited with Tony in September, Ramen noodles were the main attraction on his menu. Several months later, Mecha’s menu is now representative of Japan’s different regional nuances with the current soup bases including Shoyu, Miso and Chicken.
The Japanese take their noodles seriously, and so does Tony Pham, sourcing his noodles from Sun Noodle Brand, the Maserati of noodle purveyors. Pham was trained by a Master Ramen Chef and puts his entire heart and soul into seeking the freshest and best of each ingredient from numerous local vendors. As Ramen and Pho are both dependent on a plethora of ingredients, there cannot be a “bad egg” among any of them. Stocks are all MSG free and there is no artificial flavoring in anything he serves.
Sipping the broth of the Paitan Chicken Ramen, a milky chicken broth accented by ginger and onions, is akin to savoring the chicken soup your mom lovingly made for you. This Mecha creation with its bountiful portion of springy Chinese noodles is an authentic Ramen experience, and will have you fantasizing about visiting Grannie Watanabe in Japan. Mecha’s Tonkotsu includes nori, scallion, egg and menma (fermented bamboo shoots), this age old Japanese soup will eradicate memories of those empty Styrofoam noodle cups that littered your college dorm room.
If you love roasted pork, order the Miso Ramen, whose soup base boasts that “umami” powerhouse. Their Vegetarian Ramen adds the playful element of curry and will satiate your veggie needs with mushroom and tofu. Craving a variety of textures or protein in your Ramen? You can pick as many toppings as you like to amuse your palate. Add-ons include Onsen Tomago (egg), Menma, Shoyu chicken, mushrooms, roasted pork, nori and chili oil. Um, Um, good!
The menu permanently includes Pho, a richly developed broth that combines the aromatic flavors so reminiscent of South East Asia. With top quality bones supplied by the area's premiere butcher, Saugatuck Craft Butchery, he deems his soup bases “the make or break it foundation” to his success! , Delicate rice noodles, perfect for slurping, waft while thinly sliced rare beef finishes cooking in the hot broth. Pho Tai, to me, is the epitome of Vietnamese cooking. There is also a chicken version, Pho Ga, one with flank steak, Pho Sizzle, or one with seafood if you are feeling nautically inspired, aptly named, Pho Shore. Cilantro, jalapeño, lime, bean sprouts, sriracha and hoisin sauce, Pho's traditional accompaniments, bring forth the tongue tingling elements of salt, heat, acid and crunch, which makes this dish so spectacular!
If oodles of noodles do not appeal to you, there are numerous winning dishes Chef Pham created which speak directly to his Southeast Asian hawker/street food influence. The selection begins with "Snacks," which are all great for sharing. The Colonel is hungry-- order the KFC Bao (Korean Fried Chicken) -- thinly sliced fried chicken sandwiched in a fluffy steamed bun smeared with spicy mayo that is matched by the acidic addition of pickled carrots and turnips. The different textural components and temperatures of the ingredients make this a snack you won't want to put down.
Having a current love affair with kale? Try the Kale Salad for your "50 Shades of Kale" experience…you'll be begging for more. Imagine eating perfectly cooked "salad ready" kale that has a light, crispy tempura crunch when lo and behold, Jennifer Beals teasingly pulls the rope to unleash a sweet miso vinaigrette so delicious, you are lost in a state of bliss, right in the heart of Fairfield. And to whet your whistle even more, the salad is studded with cranberries and accompanied by Papadum. It is delectable in its simplicity and taste.
As Asian street food goes, the corn dumplings with Thai basil butter can only be found in one place-- on the corner of "Insanely Delicious" and "Can I Have Some More" streets! Browned in the pan for color and filled with a sweet, blended corn mixture, these dumplings share the bowl with small blistered tomatoes for acid and browned corn niblets that help round off the textures. The melted Thai basil butter sits in pools on top of the dish, and with each bite, you will drag your fork through the sauce until your bowl has been wiped clean. The combination of corn and Thai basil is brilliant!
Not full yet? There are “others” to choose from on the menu. If I could choose one dish that represents Asian comfort food at its best, it’s the Rice Cakes. Ground pork, with just enough spice, co-mingles with chewy, quarter size rice cakes. Similar to a good pasta Bolognese, the ratio of ground pork to cake is spot on and the ground pork sticks to these little cakes with each bite. Pickled mustard greens and fried shallot add bite and flavor.
Showing off his Vietnamese roots, musings include the Banh Mi sandwich, a rather unique combination of grilled pork, pate, Vietnamese ham, cilantro, pickled carrots and cucumber on a crunchy baguette. This go-to street food has generated a lot of buzz with foodies -- no deli creation you’ve ever tried!
Many dishes on the menu can be prepared gluten free. There is also a short list of kid friendly plates, but as a foodie mom with intrepid foodie kids, I implore you to have your family try the real thing. What’s so notable about Southeast Asian food is the multitude of ingredients and flavors all meld so cohesively, but still retain their distinctive characteristics. Sharing a food experience with my family is one of my great pleasures in life and a trip to Mecha undoubtedly bonds us as we shamelessly eat from each others' plates, and slurp to our hearts’ content. I think this makes Tony Pham very happy.
Mecha Noodle Bar 1215 Post Road, Fairfield CT 203.292.8222