PORTLAND’S latest dining revolution is brought to you by the unlikely trio of a country club chef, a pilot, and an events promoter brandishing bowls of ramen. In short: three white guys in their 40s, armed with Facebook alerts and fresh ideas about Japan’s famously addictive noodle soup. Since September, they’ve been attracting mini flash mobs to a dining adventure far removed from the traditional ramen shop, not to mention that dorm-room classic—the instant supermarket packet. Boke Bowl, their monthly experiment in food and community, is suddenly the place to be: a pop-up noodle party shaped by serious cooking, social media, and blog buzz.
Behind the makeshift stove is Patrick Fleming, an obsessive cook who tackles side projects like a dog with a sock in between shifts as executive chef at the Oregon Golf Club in West Linn. He taught himself the art of smoked meats, having brined, dry-rubbed, and perfumed enough haunches to frighten an Eastern Oregon cattle rancher. During a marathon session spent mastering the perfect Asian dumpling, he crimped hundreds in a day. His passion for meat craft and homemade noodles led to a ramen immersion, and then a brainstorm to serve playful versions of the Asian fast food in changing locations posted on the Internet. Fleming imagined Portland’s first Big Tent food democracy, bringing pork-lovers, vegetarians, vegans, and even the gluten-free crowd to the same table, with artistic choices for all. If things went well, he’d have a ready-made audience for a future restaurant. It could be like American Idol—without the bad singing.
Two college friends jumped on board: flight instructor Brannon Riceci as front man and food-connected idea factory Tim Parsons as consigliere. In the first move, Parsons posted a sneak peek of Fleming’s eye-popping ramen on his Facebook page, quickly eliciting upturned thumbs and cries from the curious: “What’s that? I want it now!”
Boke Bowl was born. Night one, 65 friends waited at the tiny Globe Bar on SE Belmont Street as Fleming boiled six vats of ramen in a guerrilla kitchen worthy of a MASH unit while a DJ spun old 45s. In month two, 200 eaters waited in the rain outside the Cruz-room on NE Alberta Street for a taste. In the overwrought, teen-age crush language of Facebook, exclamation points abounded (awesome!!). Boke Bowl’s website now draws 20,000 page views a month, and the events—held on the last Monday of each month—are packed. In one swoop, Fleming and company tapped Portland’s triple love of the wired, the compulsively hand-?made, and, yes, the endless waits in line for a meal.
For newbies, your first step is to get on Boke’s e-mail list. Then just show up. Fleming’s à la carte playbook includes a small collection of worthy starters, a trio of ramens, Asian-sparked Twinkies for dessert, and plenty of techniques borrowed from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook, where taste fixations from the back alleys of Japan have been elevated to an art.