When Grant Nooe was looking for a career path, he first followed his passion for music. Deciding that a culinary route would be more lucrative, he chose the restaurant business. But don’t let his drive for a career fool you: Chef Nooe’s latest project is all about creativity and community.
Asian-inspired M!SO has opened for dinner on Duling Avenue next to Fischer Galleries in Fondren. In the 2,000 square-foot noodle bar-style restaurant, diners will find counter-casual service, a full bar managed by John Swanson (formerly with The Library) and a six burner wok. Saki tastings are planned and so is Thursday Night Jazz in the Alley, no surprise coming from Nooe, a musician himself.
The team at M!SO will create a variety of dishes that satisfy most every palette. “If you’re with five people, chances are, two won’t want sushi,” the Chef says of his menu’s diversity. No problem there: the restaurant boasts over 1,000 ways to create your own noodles, soups and stir fry. The “build your favorite stir fry wok bar” gives a choice of noodles or soup with fresh veggies finished with one of M!SO’s unique sauces or chef-made broths. Choose vegetable only, tofu, beef, chicken or shrimp. Add to that appetizers like miso soup, edamame, lettuce wraps, spring rolls and firecracker shrimp. On the lighter side, find salads of the peanut ramen, sesame soba and seaweed variety or hibachi salmon or tuna. And yes, sushi: Nooe’s maki rolls come as California, veggie, shrimp tempura, avocado and yellow tail among others.
M!SO’s soba, lo mein and egg noodles will be fresh noodles, perfect for the wok bar. “This is an educated community and many folks here know how to cook,” Nooe says. “I think the wok bar will be well received.” Proteins will be cooked in back to avoid any cross contamination and finished off with sauce over fresh pasta. M!SO will use gluten free soy sauce, local honey and extracted sugar cane. Yes, there’s a sugar cane extractor at the bar that will be used to provide sweetness for everything from cocktails to mother sauces like the restaurant’s sweet and sour.
Many parts of M!SO will evolve, like the patio’s musical offerings and the “quick and fresh” cooler in the front door, perfect for an on-the-go lunch time guest. Nooe says they’ll stock that with noodle salads to make it fast to get in and get out. They’ll even bottle even their own energy drink made from fresh sugar cane, CO2 and other 100% natural ingredients.
There’s another difference you’ll notice at M!SO: at lunch, guests order at the counter from an electronic menu board and take a number, seating themselves. The Chef stresses he wants to help people get in and out as fast as they want to. Nights offer full service where Nooe encourages you to open a bar tab and try a specialty cocktail created by Swanson. M!SO will also cater to the budget-minded diner. He reasons “In this day and time, everyone is watching their pocket book.” Entree prices sit comfortably below $15.
A benchmark of M!SO’s operating procedures, all employees will be tipped – from the servers to dishwashers to cooks. “For the restaurant community, it’s a different approach,” Nooe says. “It’s a small restaurant and a team effort. I want everyone to have a sense of ownership.” He explains he’ll pay more than the industry standard $2.15 per hour wage. “If I come in and treat my employees with respect and give them an opportunity to make a living and provide for their family, they’ll be happier about providing a service. We’re here to give the community a good product with a great attitude. That will come across to our guests.” Nooe adds “If I’m successful, I promise others here will be, too.”
The team at M!SO is asking for the opportunity to become one of your favorite dining spots. “Being small, we can change,” the Chef says. “We can correct things or add things and tweak them quickly.” The longtime restaurateur tells us his boss has always been the community. “That being said, I need the community to give me the chance.” Nooe’s personal mobile phone number will be on the door. “You can call at 3am if there is an issue and I’ll address it.” And he’s open to new ideas. “People may say ‘I was in L.A. last week and I had this’ and I’m like ‘Cool, I’ll research it and try it!’ That’s one thing: I’m not scared, I’ll jump in.”
A Murrah High School graduate whose culinary projects have included Brick Oven Cafe, Pan Asia, Fresh Market Cafe, 400 East Capitol and his ever-popular Grant’s Kitchen, Nooe is reflective as he enters this new venture. “I love what I do, and it’s far beyond making money,” he says. “It’s been a long, hard journey. There were times when employees were paid before I was.” At 51, he says, he probably could been okay staying at (Grant’s Kitchen.) But he misses the creative side. “And what a great community Fondren is to be creative in. This is the epitome of creative.”