Wood burning, thin-crust pizzas. Cupcakes. The locavore movement. Fifteen-dollar cocktails with exotic citrus and herb infusions. Gourmet Cup O’ Noodles?
Of the various culinary trends that have recently whipped their way through Brooklyn’s fickle food scene, luxury ramen seems next in line for a major take-off.
Heavyweight chefs like Morimoto alums David Koon and Jamison Blankenship, owners of the upcoming Chuko in Prospect Heights, and Jean Georges vet Akihiro Moroto (currently at ZuZu Ramen in Park Slope), have gotten into the noodle game, turning the perception of ramen as four-for-a-dollar dehydrated dorm room grub on its head.
“We want to do ramen in a way that really shows off the ingredients and techniques we use,” said Blankenship. “In some ways we want to elevate it — not exactly change it — but source the best ingredients we can. There’s not much that goes into a bowl of ramen; the broth, the noodles, some toppings. We really want to make every component truly great.”
Traditionally consisting of chewy wheat noodles deposited in steaming bowls of pork bone (tonkatsu), salt (shio), or soy (shoyu) based broth, and topped sparingly with goodies like char sui pork, boiled eggs, bamboo shoots and seaweed, ramen is considered to be an essential soul food of Japan.
“It’s been around longer than this country has, certainly much longer than those dry noodle packets,” said Jason Crew, co-owner of ZuZu Ramen. “Our chef, Akihiro, grew up helping in his fathers ramen shop, so he really respects that tradition — but as a great chef, adds plenty of his own flair.”
At the critically acclaimed ZuZu, that translates to best-selling broths of Akihiro’s own invention, like Green Curry Miso, Garlic Soy, and Hot and Sour Ramen with tomatoes, Thai basil and lemongrass.
“Those are some of our real mainstays — Akihiro changes everything else according to season,” said Crew.
That’s not to say the only way to enjoy souped-up ramen in Brooklyn is with a big-name chef at the head.
Unassuming neighborhood places like Tengu Sushi and Noodle House in Bay Ridge, Hand-pull Noodle and Dumpling House in Bensonhurst, and Waza Sushi and Noodles in Clinton Hill have all jumped on the ramen bandwagon, serving up affordable, quality bowls, with no help from quick-cooking pasta blocks or sodium saturated powder.
“Our broths are simmered all day long, and are made with 10 or 12 real ingredients,” said Tengu owner, Johnny Lee. “Our noodles are made fresh, from flour, not frozen, or from a warehouse. The fact is, a lot of people in the Asian community don’t like MSG or artificial flavorings in their food, and I think more and more people feel that way in general.”
Of course, there will always be naysayers, unwilling to fork over more than a couple of dollars for a meal with such bargain basement connotations — but noodle visionaries like Jamison hope the ramen movement is more than a passing craze.
“The ramen shop in Japan is like the diner in Brooklyn,” he said. “It’s the soul of the neighborhood. Our greatest goal is to be that for our community.”