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Thursday
Jun202013

Mecha Noodle Bar Opens in Fairfield: An Interview w/ Tony Pham

Ramen noodles are having "their moment," and restaurateur Tony Pham, owner of Pho Vietnam in Danbury has just opened a new venture in Fairfield that will have fans of Asian food slurping without pause. Welcome to MECHA. 

Pham, a Vietnamese American who opened Pho Vietnam at the tender age of 21, again uses his raw talent drawing from his years of experience traveling around the world and working in numerous kitchens.  His newest baby, Mecha, located on Post Road in Fairfield is a hip, cozy joint that serves up Ramen as well as Asian street food. Consulting with a master Ramen chef, Tony Pham is placing all bets on this age old Japanese noodle..and we hear Pho is on the way. For a new restaurant aiming directly at the college crowd around Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, it's a perfect match.

Read our interview with Tony Pham below to find out more about Tony's family, the history of Ramen, the meaning of "MECHA," and what inspires Tony Pham. 

Tony, what would you describe as the ultimate Asian family meal?

The ultimate family meal in my house hold is when there are drinks, fresh delicious food, and great conversation. My favorite family meal is hot pot. It's a fondue-ish meal but instead of cheese or chocolate, we have a simmering pot of hot & sour broth in the middle of the table (or floor). Surrounding the hot pot are raw Asian vegetables like napa cabbage, bok choy, chinese broccoli, straw mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and also beef and various fresh seafood. Everyone has a go in putting what they want in the communal pot. It's very interactive.  

Describe the experience of sharing a meal with your family:

Sharing a meal with my family involves lots of wine, great food, and great conversation. We usually just make fun of each other and catch up on our day. It's about savoring the moments.  

Talk to me about the history of Ramen and why do you think it is having its' moment now?

Ramen is huge in Japan. It's a part of their culture and even bigger than the burger is in America. The reason why it's catching on now is because of the media. I mean, it's absolutely delicious and would've spread eventually but there's the Momofuku empire that has been an inspiration and definitely lit the match. Now you have big players like Ippudo and Wagamama trying to expand furthur in the states.  

Most Americans associate ramen with "cup of noodles," do you think eating Ramen at Mecha will be a life changing experience for those who haven't tried it before?

Once you have eaten the real thing, you'll never want go back to "cup of noodles". Not sure if I'd consider that life changing but it sure is freaking delicious. It's also comforting to know that the stock we are making has no msg or any artificial junk that comes from packages. This will be the first meal people from CT will think of in the cold months of Autumn and Winter.

What is Asian street food and do you have to be hip to eat it?

Asian street food, or hawker food are reasonably priced, extremely flavorful snacks and/or dishes found at city centers throughout Asia. They are usually big attraction sites where people gather in a social setting and have a casual grub. If you are a sucker for food and culture like I am, then these hawker stalls are the best way to experience both. You don't necessarily have to be hip, just well-read and adventurous.  

And Pho-- what makes it so special?

What makes Pho special is that it will, at its best, bring you back childhood memories of a chicken noodle soup, of a hangover remedy, or of an extreme comfort of some sorts. I heard someone say that the greatest epiphanies happen after a bowl of pho.  

What ingredients are key in making it authentic?

The recipe for pho is pretty basic and well recorded. The ingredients include beef bones, chicken frames, charred onion and ginger, fish sauce, rock sugar and spices like star anise, cinnamon, and cardamon. What will obviously set it apart from mother to mother's recipe is the time, quantity, and quality of the ingredients.

A good bowl of Pho or Ramen begins and ends with the broth, tell us about your broth and where those succulent bones come from...

We've been fortunate enough to have a great local butcher shop in Westport called Saugatuck Craft Butchery that does all the leg work for us. They are an old fashion butcher shop that dedicate themselves to only carrying premium pasture raised meat from small local farms. The animals are naturally raised, meaning no antibiotics or hormones are ever used, and also humanely raised. Craft's philosophy is to use the entire animal so it was a no brainer to team up with them. Between the two restaurants, we've been getting all their beef, pork, and chicken bones for our stocks. 

What do you want people to know about your family?

I want people to see the bond of our family, helping each other out because we endure 15 hour work days, we endure exhaustion and  adversity to create something awesome for the community. I really hope to inspire people with our work ethic. I also want them to know the why's. Why do we put ourselves into exhaustion everyday? One of the big reason is to introduce the community to great Asian food that we eat in our homes. It's not the "Asian-Fusion" fare you see at the majority of these restaurants.  

And the name Mecha, what does that mean?

Mecha is actually two words, Me, meaning mom, and Cha, meaning father. When I was throwing around ideas for the name I wanted to pay homage to the "mom and pop" shops all over the world. They always make awesome food with the fuss. Pho Vietnam started as a mom and pop and still functions the same way. Mecha has a little more experience behind it but I wanted people to know that the soul behind Mecha is mom and pop. 

So Tony, besides aspiring to be crowned Ramen Noodle King of Fairfield County, What else inspires you? 

I want our community to experience Asian food the way it's suppose to be in a family setting. If I could merge food and family/friends together, it makes it worth it. But I'm not going to lie. The biggest inspiration is to be at the point where my parents don't have to work these 15 hour days. I really want them to take a step back and relax a little bit. 

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Reader Comments (6)

My family loves the restaurant in Danbury and will be so happy to be able to get the same flavors so much closer to home

June 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercreekside

Finally someone is filling the ramen void! This stuff is comfort food.

June 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfairfieldpress

So excited that you teamed up with Saugatuck Craft Butchery for your bones, and I'm certain your broths are better for it. Looking forward to being there soon!

Pho Vietnam is a hidden gem...hopefully after this article all of FF county won't descend upon this quiet restaurant. I am very lucky to have it so close. The best Pho!!!

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSylviaR

Just tried Mecha this week. Loved it and the more "upscale" feel. I am a very picky pho consumer (since I grew up with pho) and used to travel to Danbury to get my pho fix, but now I will be able to satisfy my noodle and pho craving closer to home (without having to make a big pot for me to eat by myself). Now, how do I get Tony to add honey dew bubble tea with lychee jelly to the menu.... ^_^

July 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHappy Customer

We just had dinner there tonight and was one of my favorite meals in a long time! Every thing we had was perfect and delicious, and we sat at a communal table that ended up being a "ctbites" love-fest of foodies and fans! Great recommendation, thank you. We shall return, and return often! And we even discussed Gluten Free food preparation and they know all about non-contamination and sounded very knowledgeable and accomodating - will be back with our family too!

September 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaida

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