Let me lay the scene: it’s last Saturday evening. Friday night, I drank all the prosecco that Pizza D could give me, then I drank whatever wine-like drink other people put in front of my face. Because I’m now old and can’t drink like I did when I was, oh, 17 but I often try my hardest, Saturday had shaped up to be a rough day. (9:00AM yoga outside along the river is great in theory, but hangovers, yoga poses, and immense humidity may not always be the best way forward.)
Anyway. My partner, Alex and I thought let’s have a down night. Let us bake some vegan, gluten-free blueberry-lemon muffins for my book club the next morning. And that, my friends, may have been the most middle-aged thing I’ve ever written.
But I’m addicted to Instagram so went for a scroll and found Midnight Noodle at the Catahoula Hotel’s evening special: Northern Thai Curry Udon with the words “very limited bowls”. I needed baking soda for these muffins and while we could easily walk to the store in under five minutes, it seemed silly not to get in the car, drive to get baking soda and then swing 15 minutes out of our way to get this delightful, limited edition dish.
If you’re a NOLA vegan, you know about Midnight Noodle. I first met Melvin and his dumplings and his noodles back at Arrow Café yonks ago. The now-known-as Sweet Treats by Rah was also there serving up king cake. I literally ordered one of everything and have been a fan of both ever since. I’ve seen Melvin serve all over town, but hadn’t yet managed to get to his new semi-permanent locale at the super hip Catahoula Hotel (right now you can catch him Wednesday & Thursday 5pm-9pm and Friday & Saturday 5pm-10pm).
Back to last Saturday night. So we roll up to Catahoula because parking isn’t bad and the streets are empty, because Saturday evening in the CBD (Central Business District for all of you non-New Orleanians I’m sure are reading this…). The hotel itself is beautiful and quirky and so new-New Orleans. Staying a night there has been on my must-do list for ages. (Dear Catahoula, if you want to gift me a night’s stay, I will totally write rave reviews for all the readers I don’t have here. I’m really not above bribery. In the slightest.)
I ordered a mocktail from the Pisco Bar because let us not forget my drinking binge from the night before. One of the bartenders was ecstatic about making a mocktail, asking me what flavors I liked, and pondering each ingredient fully before making me this hella refreshing, super delicious cocktail sans booze. The rest of the night I was convinced my future was rooted in mocktails – all the flavor! none of the hangover! Looking back, I know now I was naive, but it’s fun pretending sometimes.
I ordered the Northern Thai curry special and Alex got the Fire Flower Udon. We shared an order of the dumplings even though we had gone to Hong Kong Market that afternoon, bought and then consumed two types of dumplings for lunch earlier that day. Y’all, #dumplingsarelife.
THAT CURRY, THO. Seriously. Put this on your menu, Melvin every.damn.day. and I will throw my money at you. When I find something super delicious, I have a tendency to try to trick my body by eating as much as I can, as quickly as possible so by the time I feel full, I’ve eaten all of it and then I can feel miserable for the next 12 hours. (This is likely a throw-back to when I first moved to England, was appalled that I had to spend like $20 on a sandwich, and realized they didn’t do doggie bags. It also likely explains my weight struggles throughout my life. Whatever, we’re not here for that.) I tried to shovel this curry into my mouth as much as I could, but then realized that I could take home leftovers. Novel concept. So I got two meals out of this and was not mad at all that it came out to $7 per meal. Give it to me.
Alex’s Fire Flower Udon was packed with flavor, too. I remember thinking early on that sometimes there was a bit too much oil in the dishes, but no more. The dishes tasted so fresh, so balanced, and so creative that I really could see just how far Midnight Noodle has come in the past few years. Again, I adore spice. So for my liking, I would have dumped a pound of red chili flakes on top of Alex’s dish and been a happy girl. However, I have learned that doing this to other people’s food is not socially acceptable and that I probably shouldn’t do it if I want to still have friends/family/partners. He did let me eat the incredibly hot peppers Melvin put on his plate, though – perhaps for garnish, perhaps not. And Alex also, very generously, gave me the two dumplings with the most chili on top of them. The spice was very real, and it was very appreciated.
The dumplings. YES. They won the dumpling contest we inadvertently held that day. Hands down. The filling texture was so good. I’ve got this unofficial test where if Alex has to ask if the food is vegan, or what is in food to give it “that texture” or “that flavor,” you know it’s a winner. I’m not a big fan of faux-meats as one of the original reasons I became vegetarian was the chewing texture of meat. The mock duck in these dumplings is not that chewy, flesh-tearing texture and it’s used in balance with the other filling ingredients (think kale, ginger, scallion) rather than being the star of the show. The dough has a bit of a bite so you’re not eating a sloppy, soggy mess but also didn’t require you to pick it out of your back teeth. (Y’all, I’m so sexy.)
Which all takes us back to the title of this…story? How does Melvin get all that flavor in such a small kitchen?! I have seen him work on a small skillet inside Arrow Café and outside Sidney’s Saloon so I know he could do it. But I have to give him props because that space within Pisco bar can’t be that large, but he’s still churning out thoughtful, drool-worthy vegan eats and for that, I’m grateful.
Here’s my suggestion to y’all. Make a date with friends/neighbors/the person you’re comfortable being seen in public with, get dressed up, head to Pisco Bar, grab a m(c)ocktail (get it?!), and grab a seat upstairs at the rooftop bar, in the fabulous courtyard, or on the comfy sofas/seats strewn throughout. Order probably the entire Midnight Noodle menu at the bar and proceed to shove all of it into your face. You can share if that’s your thing. Have a glam evening out. You deserve it. Or, go in yoga pants, covered in gluten-free flour, with a messy bun and an oily face and slurp the noodles like no one is watching. Life is short, y’know.
Oh, and Melvin. Between me and you, if you’re making that gold king cake again this year, hit me up. I’ll take ’em all.