Bokebowls and Miso Butterscotch Twinkies

It just so happens that growing up, I never ate a Twinkie, that springy, spongey, golden ”cream”-filled American dietary rite of passage. Not one. Not even a bite of one. We were a no refined sugar/no white flour household (not by choice, as far as us kids were concerned) and Twinkies violated every dietary rule in the hungry hungry hippie handbook, particularly the one about not consuming anything that doesn’t biodegrade in under 75 years. (Just kidding, according to Hostess, a Twinkie’s shelf life is 26 days.)

Since deprivation oft breeds obsession, I’m still somewhat fascinated by Twinkies. So when I scanned the menu for Bokebowl’s pop-up ramen night, marveling at soup descriptions like “caramelized fennel broth, Japanese eggplant, butternut squash rice cakes, crispy shallot” with slow-poached eggs, handmade noodles, fall greens, wild mushrooms and miso corn, all that gloriousness suddenly took the back seat when I locked in on the “Boke twinkies” section. Two kinds of handmade twinkies–chocolate with almond star anise cream and vanilla with miso butterscotch?! Surely they jest.

I had to taste those twinkies. And the ramen. Sure, of course, the ramen. And the twinkies! Fortunately Bokebowl–a new culinary collaboration between local blogger/chef Patrick Fleming, aka The Culinary Addict, and his buddy Brannon Riceci–wouldn’t keep me in suspense for long. Last night they held their second monthly ramen dinner, commandeering the kitchen of Northeast Alberta’s Cruz Room and turning the sexy little bar/taco lab into a frothing mass of ramen-slurping humanity.

We were fortunate to get seats at the bar at around 6:30, while there was still breathing room. A few minutes after we sat down, the doorway filled with waiting ramen coveters and never emptied. The bar was the best vantage point, we had a glimpse into the Cruz Room’s small galley kitchen, the stove crowded with boiling pots of broth and noodles, the sweating Bokebowl cooks skillfully assembling huge bowls of steaming soup as fast as they could.

I read a lot of menus, so when a menu makes my heart beat faster, it’s something special. But honestly, read this!

pickles (for 2)
assorted seasonal pickles with ginger-green onion rice, korean seaweed 7

steam buns (3)
grilled eggplant, cucumber, pickled mustard sauce 6
char sui pork, cucumber, green onion 6

salad
beet carpaccio with brussel sprout leaves, almonds, tofu croutons 7

ramen
ramen choices feature hand made noodles, fall greens, wild mushrooms, and miso corn

seafood miso broth, olive oil poached shrimp 10
add miso black cod 3
add pork belly 2
add slow poached egg 1.5
.
pork and chicken broth, slow smoked pulled pork, buttermilk fried chicken 12
add pork belly 2
add slow-poached egg 1.5
.
caramelized fennel broth, japanese eggplant, butternut squash rice cakes, fried shallot 8
add slow poached egg 1.5
.
junior bokebowl – noodles with corn and your choice of shrimp or pork 6
.
boke twinkies
chocolate with almond star-anise cream 1.5
vanilla with miso butterscotch 1.5

There were quite a few families at Ramen Night, and the scaled-down, $6 “junior bokebowl,”  is presumably for the kids, although Mette chose that one because she wasn’t so sure she could down one of the hot tub-sized bowls emerging from the kitchen. The menu also includes the option to substitute gluten-free yam noodles, and the cooks use three broths–pork and chicken, seafood miso, and caramelized fennel–so there’s a broth for the meat lover, the pescetarian, and the vegetarian/vegan. They’ve thought of everything.

We started with the tender char sui pork folded into steamed buns with crisp rounds of cucumber and freshly-sliced scallions, and the beet carpaccio–thin slices of perfectly-roasted red and golden beets sprinkled with fleur de sel and chewy tofu croutons and accompanied by a mound of brussels sprouts leaves tossed with roasted almonds and slightly tart lime vinegar.

bokebowlporkbunsbokebowlbeets

Then there was the ramen. I opted for the seafood miso broth with olive oil-poached shrimp. Optional add ons were the miso black cod, pork belly and slow-poached egg and since I just hate to leave anyone out, I got them all. The creamy cod was the centerpiece, the slices of pork belly were thick and smoky, and the handmade noodles were wonderful, cooked to that happy noodle medium between soft and chewy. The combination of fish, pork belly, egg, shrimp, wild mushrooms, greens, and fresh noodles made for an unbelievable one-bowl meal.

bokebowlcod

The Japanese eggplant and butternut squash rice cakes in caramelized fennel broth ramen was terrifically rich, the perfect compliment to a chilly, blustery autumn evening. I didn’t get a good taste of the pork and chicken ramen, my dining companion lit into it while I was distracted with a pork bun and by the time I noticed the alarmingly-accelerated splashing and slurping going on down the bar, it was nearly gone. I was assured that it was excellent, however, small consolation as that was.

bokebowlbutternut

And then, finally, the long-awaited twinkies, beautiful little chocolate icing-draped and vanilla-bean specked logs filled with homemade cream. The almond star anise cream had a licoricey kick, while the vanilla miso butterscotch was pleasantly mild, and neither twinkie was oversweetened. A light, heavenly, relatively guilt-free sweet ending.

bokebowltwinkies

When we showed signs of departing, shadowy hands appeared from the candlelit depths near the door, grasping firmly at the backs of our chairs, territorially edging handbags onto our barely vacated seats, as the ramen-mad crowd yet to get their mitts on a pair of chopsticks and a steamed bun angled for our precious seats. No fights broke out, that I saw, but I could hardly blame them–they probably had twinkie envy.