Kapow! Noodle Bar chef Roy Villacrusis won the "Grand Chef Throwdown" at the fifth annual Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival last night, a five-day benefit for the James Beard Foundation. Villacrusis, who helmed the short-lived Kubo that earned New Times' Best Restaurant in Palm Beach in 2011, competed against Charlie Soo of Talay Thai in Palm Beach Gardens and yacht chef Peter Ziegelmeier.
With the Villacrusis win, Clean Plate Charlie serves up the Kapow! Noodle Bar crib notes.
Pluses: As the case often is with restaurateurs Rodney Mayo and Scott Frielich, the place is stylish. Like a Japanese izakaya, the bar serves as centerpiece, a concrete slab framed by wood-back stools. Mismatched wood texturizes the floor, and a mural presents a swirl of a geisha sipping soup, a snow-capped Mt. Fuji in the distance. A thread to the Japanime name, cartoon robots and Loch Ness monsters swim in the painted ocean. A tiny open kitchen overtakes a corner, accessorized with a chalkboard overhang.
Minuses: It's in Mizner Park.
Pluses: Vaughan Lazar and Scott Frielich created the cocktail menu inspired by speakeasies in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco. Some drinks tend toward sweet -- sangria, kiwi caipiroska, Saigon apple, and yuzu caipirinha, for example -- though Thomas the bartender presents a balanced cocktail.
There's a separate menu for beer, wine, and sake, the latter of which is curated by Roy Villacrusis himself. If you like sake even a little, do not walk out without sampling one. Last night, Thomas poured an after-dinner number, unfiltered and near opaque, slightly sweet and smelling like tapioca.
Minuses: As a menu showcase, drinks are expensive.
Pluses: The tight menu features a noodle house of greatest hits: udon, ramen, pho, and soba. Stick with smoky ramen, a broth anchored with alkaline noodles, served with pork belly, and garnished with chiffonaded seaweed. I'm also in love with shishito peppers, stuffed with mascarpone and served lightly breaded in panko. The beef tongue would be transcendent if a little less tough: meat petals marinated in the classic soy-garlic-ginger-honey-vinegar combo, served with a daikon-hot chili sauce. Predictions? Korean fried chicken and banh mi are the next additions to the menu.
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Minuses: The steamed buns feature delicious innards, but the bread shows as an open tongue that's too close to something mass-produced by Hostess. I've had this same stuff time and again at Pairings and in cities all over the place lately. It's sticky and sweet, and goes against the artisanal trend if in fact it's not made in-house as I suspect.