Not So Starving Artists: Katie Boyts and Chris Attenborough go to Mi & Yu Noodle Bar

Much of year, soup sits in a somewhat boring category of food, an obligatory element on every menu, an afterthought, a lackluster necessity that receives little attention. Until of course we hit this time of year, when the cold sets in. By now we have stopped stuffing our face with popsicles, have shaken the dust off our sweaters, and are desperately trying to find ways to warm up. Personally I use a rice bag that I heat up in the microwave, oversized hand-me-down sweaters, and a space heater that blasts hot air on my feet under my desk. And of course, the trustworthy bowl of soup.

Of all the soups, ramen is the current undisputed king, an integral part of Japanese cuisine that satisfies not only our chilled bones, but that carb addict within us all, with its glorious pile of wheat noodles peaking out of the broth. The ramen craze in America arguably began with David Chang and Momofuku, starting with a noodle bar in New York and evolving into what some may call an empire of noodles. The epidemic (and I say epidemic in the most affectionate way possible) has spread like wildfire, and thankfully Baltimore has joined right in.

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There are now a handful of spots serving ramen in Baltimore, which is a handful more than when I arrived three years ago. Dooby’s has a solid bowl. TenTen Ramen, as suggested by its name, has a menu dedicated to the soup. There’s also Ejji Ramen in Belvedere Square. And most recently, a noodle bar that opened in September in Federal Hill: Mi & Yu Noodle Bar. Feeling the claws of winter beginning to dig in, Chris and I visited Mi & Yu on a Tuesday lunch hour.

To be honest, I rarely venture to Fed Hill. The parking is atrocious. It’s tough to find coffee, and outside of Thai Arroy on Light Street, the restaurants don’t pique my interest all that much. However, lunch at Mi & Yu made me think the venture might be worth my while.

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Mi & Yu has kept things beautifully simple. With understated signage, counter service and a chalkboard menu that doesn’t give me ordering paralysis in its breadth, I felt at ease walking in. A lovely cashier took our order which consisted of a series of three choices: Choose a noodle. Choose a protein. Choose a broth.

I went with: Udon. Fried Tofu/Veggie. Savory Miso. $10.

Chris chose: Ramen. Buttermilk Fried Chicken. Savory Miso. $12.

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To my disappointment, they didn’t have the Beef Dashi broth available that day, which is made from the braising liquid of the beef ribs (another protein option), but rather than a frustration, it simply felt like an incentive to return. Plus the savory miso broth did far more than take a backseat. It had a delicious smoky flavor that I wasn’t expecting and really enjoyed. Miso broth can sometimes, without the care of skillful cook, come off bland, underwhelming, and not terribly noteworthy. But Mi & Yu’s broth clearly had been cared for, seasoned properly, and given a boost. It wasn’t the rich, meaty broth that some may crave in their ramen bowls, but I welcomed the delicate flavors.

The bowl also delivered the necessary factors of a proper noodle bowl: the soft boiled egg, fresh herbs, toppings like onions and carrots and fresh jalapeno, and the generous portions of tofu were cooked well, holding up their end of the texture bargain. The slices of fried chicken were flavorful and tender, and in my opinion didn’t need the buttermilk qualifier. It was damn good chicken in a giant bowl of noodles – sold. And the noodles – delivery there as well. A mildly chewy texture, which is the desirable result, and a flavor that did exactly its job – adding a starchy component to tie it all together, but not taking away from the many other flavors in the bowl.

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As Chris took photos, I ran down the street to the Metropolitan bar because Mi & Yu doesn’t have a bathroom. This worked out perfectly for us, but unless you need to spend 10 minutes photographing your food prior to eating it, I recommend coming to the noodle bar prepared, bladder-wise. As we downed the bowls of steaming broth in the window well table, I watched beads of sweat form on Chris’s face, confirming this cuisine’s seat at the “I need to warm up” table.

To be clear, I’ve been on board with the ramen craze from day one. Few things are more pleasing to me than a giant bowl of noodles, but as most trends do, they get pricey. At Momofuku in NY, the ramen is a whopping $15 which is a tough price to swallow at a typical lunch hour. And then there are those noodle bowls you walk away from feeling heavy and exhausted. The meaty, rich, salty broth has the capability of knocking you out for a few hours.

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But leaving Mi & Yu, I felt full and happy, like facing the afternoon wasn’t a punishing future at all. In part because of the food itself, but also largely because $10 felt digestible.

So the next time this whole “winter is coming” thing starts punching you in the face, turn off the space heater, venture over to Fed Hill, battle for that last parking spot and slurp on some noodles.

Author Katie Boyts is a pastry chef with a love of affordable carbs and the host of the Baltimore chapter of CreativeMornings

All photos by Chris Attenborough.