Slurping in a noodle shop is like smiling in front of a camera; it's expected. Although the din at Rooster's House of Ramen obscures any noisy gulps, you know they're happening. They're minimized by good, loud music and conversation.
The sound levels don't matter much, as Rooster's is all about the food, which has its roots in casual Asian street fare. This is also evident in the two informal, minimalist dining areas. The menu features 15 entrees, more than half of them noodle bowls. Also available are three bahn mi (sandwiches) and three Bao (steamed buns) choices. This is my kind of menu: short.
Yet even with what some might consider limited options, it was difficult deciding what to order. We delayed selecting our entrees by starting with an appetizer of shishitos ($7). The mild peppers are fried and coated with a light, barely discernible amount of teriyaki sauce, then drizzled with lemongrass aioli, aka mayo, and sprinkled with tuna flakes. The paper-thin pieces of dried tuna are initially disconcerting because they move. Really. The flakes are added as soon as the peppers come out of the pan. The heat creates the reaction, so the flakes look like dancing fairies or minuscule windsocks - imagination required.
Not everything has an entertainment feature, but what we sampled was full of flavor and a range of textures. This is most evident in the Korean barbecue chicken steamed buns ($7). Small pieces of chicken coated with a tangy, slightly piquant sauce along with pickled carrots and cabbage fill soft, chewy fist-sized rolls. Other fillings include seitan or spicy shrimp.
I'm a bahn mi enthusiast, so I was pleased to see this on Rooster's menu. I'm also a fan of oxtail. What more could I want? Just one problem: a baguette that shatters with each bite like a thin sheet of ice. The flavor was fine, but the bread didn't do justice to the tender, herb-infused, shredded oxtail. Eventually, I cast the bread aside and scooped out the meat along with the jalapeño peppers, onion and lettuce to eat with chopsticks.
Choosing a noodle bowl was tough. Our server said she liked them all but was partial to the coconut and lime-poached shrimp ($14). We narrowed our choices to three and picked two: the pork belly ($13) and duck confit ($15).
There's always a risk that pork belly will have more fat than meat. This concern quickly vanished, as there was far more of the latter than the former. Broth, shiitake mushrooms, chunks of pork with fresh, crunchy vegetables make this, and the other bowls, an all-in-one meal that requires two sets of utensils: chopsticks and a duck spoon, also known as an Asian soup spoon. Here's where the slurpin' happens.
We skipped the soft egg with the pork belly but included it with the duck confit bowl. We also asked for rice noodles, an option to make any of the bowls gluten free. Overall, this was a delightful blend of citrus-glazed duck that didn't quite fall off the bone but was pliant, along with scallions, pickled shiitake mushrooms and sprouts.
Rooster's has a nice selection of beer on tap and cocktails. Service was exceptionally friendly, and the meal was well-paced. The noise level rose as the evening progressed, but we didn't mind.
Don't worry that the restaurant will close in 2018 when it's no longer the year of the Rooster; I suspect it's here to stay.