Kotteri Ramen noodles.

Kotteri Ramen noodles.

The air in the narrow restaurant was close. It was a hot and humid mid-September day in Paris, so stepping into this tiny spot did not bring relief. But no matter. We were there for one thing, and no amount of discomfort undid our craving.

Was it a little odd that one of the first meals in the City of Light was going to be a piping hot bowl of ramen? Probably, but we didn’t care. We came to the heart of France to walk, explore, eat and enjoy all facets of the culture. So on this day, the promise of delicious, comforting soup fit our mission.

Kotteri Ramen is a hole-in-the wall in the old Opera House district. Unremarkable from the outside, it’s easy to miss, save for the line of people waiting outside. We arrived well after the lunch rush, and only waited a few minutes before snagging two stools at the counter looking into the kitchen.

Refreshment.

Refreshment.

The other side of the glass.

The other side of the glass.

The small kitchen is open with a tall barrier of Plexiglas providing separation. Next to the front window, stacks of large, flat wooden boxes held nests of fresh ramen noodles portioned for boiling in individual cylinders. The noodle man tended to large pots of water and a digital timer chirped sporadically. Behind the noodle man, the soup guy tended to three huge vats of broth, one with bobbing rolls of pork meat tethered with twine to the side for easy fishing. Beyond them, a gyoza station, where chefs were frying and steaming dumplings in rectangular metal boxes. Everyone in the kitchen was dressed in rubber waders and gum boots.

J and I placed our orders — pork ramen for him and ramen du beurre for me. (We were, after all, in France.) To drink, cold Kirin Ichiban beers in tall cans.

Ramen du beurre.

Ramen du beurre.

Ramen assembly was pure theater: Order up, the noodle keeper would plunge ramen-filled cylinders into the boiling water, punching seconds into the digital timer. Meanwhile, the soup guy arranged bowls on the counter in front of us, on the other side of the Plexiglas. When the timer chirped, noodle guy removed dripping cylinders from the bath. Swinging his arms from shoulder height downward in swift motions toward the floor, he drained noodles, flinging water everywhere. Plop they went into the bowls where the soup guy took over, lading miso or pork broth soup over the heap. He then added thick slices of pork, chopped scallions and bean sprouts. A big square of butter was placed atop the ramen de beurre, melting into the hot noodles and broth, and the two bowls were handed over the Plexiglas divide to us, the recipients.

We slurped. Beautifully concentrated pork broth was long simmered for deep color and flavor. With the chewy fresh ramen noodles and the unctuous richness of the butter, this was some of the best ramen we’ve eaten. I made eye-contact with the noodle guy and expressed appreciation with a nod and smile. He gestured back with a happy thumbs up.

Full, hot and slightly uncomfortable, we ambled out into the Paris sunshine.

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75% whole wheat boule with Camembert.

75% whole wheat boule with Camembert.

Few things make me happier than being covered in flour, hand mixing dough. Sometimes it’s for pasta or dumplings or pizza, but lately  my head and heart have been devoted to making bread. So it’s decided. I’m going to be an artisan baker. Someday I may even make it official.

The web has no shortage of talented artisan-bread bloggers and fermentation nerds. And I’m a relative newbie, so I hesitate to go into details for fear of exposing myself as a fraud. But since the beginning of the year I’ve been baking once a week, sometimes twice, and I am gaining confidence. I’ll even go out a on a limb and say that I’m honing some bakerly instincts when it comes to timing and temperature, feel and smell. My wild-yeast starter is healthy and strong. She’s named Shirley.

I’m especially lucky to have willing guinea pigs in my bread experiment so Jeff and I can share the products of my practice. Neighbors take loaves off my hands and give me kind and encouraging feedback. My favorite so far was a note from the niece of my next-door neighbor. She tried my bread at her aunt’s house — a basic loaf of pain de campagne —  and wrote me a note saying how much she enjoyed it. She even detailed why: the dark, hard crust, the beautiful open crumb. (I’m paraphrasing.) The note lives above my desk, a bit of encouragement while I tap away at my day job.

There’s still so much to learn and improve on. My baguettes are misshapen and my scoring technique needs work. But I am determined to be a fermentation nerd myself, and can’t wait for my next bake.

The nicest bit of encouragement.

The nicest bit of encouragement.