Yes, it was hot.
So spicy that my nose was running, my eyes were glistening, and, I hasten to say, a box of tissues should have been deposited on the table at Oni Ramen, along with the bowl of Oni Reaper.
Any idiot would tell you to be wary of a dish that is described as being “demon spiced” and contains not only ghost and scorpion peppers but also Carolina Reaper, which Guinness World Records named the Hottest Pepper in the World in 2013.
The good news (other than I am still alive) is that this bowl of thick-noodled ramen ($13) was exceptional. It was inordinately spicy, but also irresistibly delicious, especially for those who require a good sinus-clearing and/or desire to host Man v. Food-esque TV shows.
It’s thanks to Jesus Garcia, who drew raves as head chef of Little Lilly Sushi, then moved to Seattle and went on to learn about ramen there before being lured back to Fort Worth this year, to the sometimes-rough waters that are the West 7th complex.
His new restaurant, which he opened in August with backers from the Sushi Axiom family, has already weathered changes in service (it used to be counter, now it’s tableside) and has tweaked its menu.
For instance, you can’t get the Straight Outta Kyushu ramen anymore, as I did on my first visit. Rather, it’s been renamed Kyushu Tonkotsu and it’s slightly cheaper too, at $11. Either way, it’s great. In a heavy salt-based broth, pork belly pieces, wood ear mushrooms, mustard greens and black garlic bob around, occasionally displaced by thin noodles and a soft-boiled egg.
Garcia says it’s best to slurp the noodles (he uses Kobayashi Seimen noodles) in 5-8 minutes — really! — before they begin to take on the soup’s broth, leaving you with more noodle than soup. I couldn’t say I finished all of my noodles in that span of time, mostly because the broth was filling, not to mention the pork belly so rich.
I had better luck a few days later at lunch, when the weather was slightly cooler, I was hungrier and the Oni Reaper was calling my name.
Miso-based, its broth was lighter and I found my spoon more adept at navigating the bowl, studded with mostly the same accoutrements as the Tonkotsu, plus kernels of Parmesan-dusted corn. The noodles, thicker here, seemed to gather up bits of broth in their tiny nooks and crannies, adding even more texture to the dish.
But really, the broth is the star, so spicy your lips will become tingly, your eyes will likely water, and you might have trouble maintaining any sort of conversation.
Other items on the smallish menu were similarly, startlingly good.
The Takoyaki ($5) were a lunchtime steal, six fried wheat-cake spheres, filled with pieces of octopus and topped with bonito flakes that disconcertingly moved atop the hot balls. Pillowy, chewy and sweet from the tonkatsu sauce, they were my rejoinder to not going to the State Fair this year.
The pork belly bun sandwich ($8) consisted of two mini steamed buns filled with slivers of crispy pork belly, plus greens and pickled veggies. One bite and the soft exterior seemed to melt into the meat, which crackled against the veggies. A hoisin-like sauce added a little sweetness. My friend liked them so much he said he could eat them ALL DAY (his caps).
For the ramen-averse, there are poke bowls too. A large bowl ($12) of mixed fish (tuna and salmon) came with a choice of brown or white rice (or salad), plus onions, seaweed, cucumber and sesame seeds. I added kimchi cabbage and mango to the bowl, which yielded some interesting flavors. Everything tasted great, but the chili aioli clung to the fish like a bad date.
The restaurant is certainly taking its time to warm up to the large dining room, and would do well to add some screens or partitions to create a more intimate setting. And on both visits, service was cute but didn’t match the quality of the food that was coming out of the kitchen.
With food this stellar, these are minor missteps.
Because on the whole, chef Jesus Garcia done good. Now, off to the store for those tissues.