Downtown Pasadena has been seeing a lot of turnover in recent months. A bunch of new shops and restaurants have been springing up. It seems like every time we go there, there’s a new dive or eatery that we haven’t noticed before. Such change brings about mixed feelings, but thankfully none of our favorite downtown Pasadena hangouts have been outed at this point.
Bone Kettle, at the time of this writing, has only been open for a few months. I’d strolled past it a few times when they weren’t open yet for service, but the storefront’s facade and concept immediately caught my eye. Theirs is a modern interpretation of Indonesian cuisine centered around their signature dish of bone broth that has been simmered for thirty-six hours poured over al dente ramen noodles with assorted greens as condiments.
Our first visit was on a Sunday night after dance practice. The restaurant was starting to wind down for the night, and we got a two-person table by the front window. We were ravenous, so their complimentary peanuts and pickles were a great pick-me-up. Our server for the night, Eric, is one of the co-owners of Bone Kettle, which came as no surprise to us given that he was oozing enthusiasm for the food and excitedly talking to customers nonstop.
We ordered ourselves a bowl of noodles and broth each, plus an order of the Jidori chicken off the protein section to share. Typically, noodle establishments offer many different combinations of noodles, broth, and condiments (tonkotsu vs shoyu vs tsukemen for example), which comprise your entire meal. At Bone Kettle, everyone’s bowl of noodles is the same. Variety come from the large selection of appetizers and protein plates they have on offer to complement their piece de resistance. It’s definitely an interesting concept that lends itself to a more upscale type of restaurant, of which Bone Kettle most definitely is, compared to Saigon Noodle down the street.
Upon receiving our bowls of noodles, the rich fragrance of the broth hits us in the face full force, which amplifies our ravenous appetites. We immediately dig in. The broth is somewhere between a clear shoyu broth and a tonkotsu broth. It is rich and fatty with a slight undertone of sweetness. Our initial exclamations of delight were soon tempered by the fact that the noodles were almost raw. They were very doughy and chewy, texture-wise. I was less bothered by this, as the noodles are advertised as ‘al dente’. Mengsha just looked at me like I was crazy. “This is not what al dente noodles should taste like”.
The Jidori chicken was definitely some of the best chicken we’d ever sampled. The meat was supremely moist, tender, and robust in flavor; a worthy compliment to the oomph of the bone broth.
As a quick aside, Jidori chicken is in some ways the analog of Kobe beef. Chicken branded as Jidori is supposed to be of an elevated quality, though the term isn’t regulated by the USDA. True Jidori chickens are fed an all-vegetarian diet consisting of clover, tomatoes, and apples, and are supposed to be delivered on the same day as they were slaughtered. Indeed, it can be eaten sashimi-style, which is definitely an interesting prospect.
The dish certainly lived up to its inherent claim of a heightened quality of chicken. We left the restaurant that night super stuffed, with enough leftovers for one of our lunches the next day.
We were back within the week, this time bringing along two of our friends. Consistency is really important when it comes to running a restaurant. We wanted to give their noodles another chance. Plus there were all those appetizer selections that we passed up the last time we were there. We decided to split a bowl of broth and noodles between the two of us while also sharing a bunch of appetizers with our friends. We ordered the chicken wings, ube gnocchi, and oxtail dumplings off the appetizers section, the brisket off the protein section, and the cassava cake with avocado ice cream off the dessert section.
Each appetizer dish was tasty, though a bit expensive for their size. Our favorite were the dumplings, which were wonderfully earthy due to the abundance of mushrooms in the dish. They were definitely walking a fine line here, the mushrooms came close to overpowering the flavor of the oxtail. The ube gnocchi was also very good. It had a great texture, and although coconut doesn’t immediately come to mind to pair with duck confit, it works surprisingly well. I don’t think I had sampled ube in any dishes up until this point. They’re a sweet purple yam that has been gaining a lot of popularity recently as a trendy ingredient. I liken it to a slightly sweeter alternative to taro.
As for the fried chicken, it was recommended to us by our waiter on both occasions. I’m not really a friend chicken person, but Bone Kettle’s, garnished with bits of exploding chilies and lime juice, were also well-received by our table, even though our friends aren’t all that great with spicy foods. They’re the perfect amount of fried and oily, with a bit of tongue-numbing buzz to boot. We’ve been quite impressed with Bone Kettle’s chicken dishes; every one we’ve tried has been on point.
The brisket was also really delicious, with a gloriously silky texture that almost oozed off the bone. I think of the two protein menu items we’ve tried, I like the brisket more than the Jidori chicken (though I’ve always been biased towards beef anyway). Mengsha preferred the chicken. This time around, the noodles were much more akin to the texture of ramen noodles, which lends some credence to the hypothesis that the noodles had been undercooked the on our first visit. Our decision to split a bowl of noodles between the two of us was a good one.
Lastly, the cassava cake was, in my opinion, the least remarkable thing we ordered. It wasn’t bad, but I’ve always been a guy who likes his deserts on the sweeter side. Chock it up to the picky little sugar-loving kid I’ve got living inside me. The cake wasn’t sweet enough for me, and the avocado ice cream was a bit icy in texture. We’ve been going to a lot of really amazing ice cream shops lately, so it was immediately apparent that the avocado ice cream just wasn’t as good as what we’ve been spoiling ourselves on. Overall, the meal was much more appropriately portioned this time around, and we walked out feeling the perfect amount of satisfied instead of stuffed.
Bone Kettle presents a very different kind of dining experience compared to most other noodle joints that may specialize in ramen or pho. While the noodles and broth are still the centerpiece of the menu, the overall experience feels more refined. That’s definitely not to say that I’d choose to dine at Bone Kettle exclusively over a good ol’ fashioned ramen shop like Tsujita, but Bone Kettle’s menu has broadened my notion of the role noodle soups can play within the context of a larger meal with many dishes all working together in concert.
Indeed, when partaking in noodle soups, the bowl of noodles is always the star of the show. Any accompanying dishes play the part of sidekick to the main attraction. At least that’s what all of my past dining experiences would have me believe. Bone Kettle has done a good job cultivating a dining experience that has upended these notions of mine. They still have a few kinks to work out, as they are still a very new restaurant, but I believe that in time they will establish themselves as a restaurant in the competitive food arena that is downtown Pasadena.
Post written by Sean C.