I love ramen!
Not the little fried bricks you find in the soup aisle of the grocery store, but the 42-hour, slow-cooked broth and fresh chewy noodle type you get at a ramen shop. (OK, I like the little fried brick ramen. too. But I LOVE fresh ramen).
The only problem is that there are no ramen shops in Fort Worth. Austin has plenty, such as Ramen Tatsu-ya and Daruma Ramen, and Dallas has one, Tanoshii in Deep Ellum. But we are still waiting for our first ramen shop in Cowtown.
But all is not lost. Several restaurants serve ramen here, and their dishes are actually very good.
Chef Kevin Martinez of Tokyo Café has a Hokkaido-style tamen (pork/miso broth with soft-shell crab, pork belly, fried garlic chips) on his menu; it was named one of the top 15 bowls of noodles in Texas by Texas Monthly last month, right up there with the ramen shop bowls from Tatsu-ya and Daruma in Austin. And not to be outdone, chef Jesus Garcia of Little Lilly Sushi was also in Texas Monthly last month; his restaurant made the 10 Best New Restaurants in Texas list, but his ramen also made the list of 5 Best Ramens in Dallas in D Magazine.
So, when I heard the two chefs were teaming up to do a one-night ramen pop-up dinner, I quickly made a reservation.
If you’re unfamiliar with pop-ups, it basically refers to a temporary restaurant, or in this case, a one-night dinner. Pop-ups are normally put on in a house or closed retail space, promoted through social media and word of mouth, and crowd-funded through reservations. This gives chefs the opportunity to experiment with restaurant and dinner concepts without the risk and overhead of opening a restaurant or drastically changing their menu.
The ramen pop-up was in the dining room of the Culinary School of Fort Worth, with student chefs serving and learning how to prepare ramen (pretty cool).
The dinner consisted of appetizers, dessert and three ramen dishes — six or seven courses in all. Check out the slideshow above to see all the courses, but let’s get right to the ramen:
The first one was a smoked gyokotsu ramen, by chef Martinez. Gyokotsu is made with beef bones instead of pork. Martinez added a twist by smoking the bones before using them, which added a smoky flavor to the soup, which also had Thai basil, lime and roasted bean sprouts. It was topped with beef cheek, dehydrated corn and egg foam, and the dish tasted like a robust, smoky pho.
The second ramen was more traditional: tonkotsu ramen, by chef Garcia. It was pork-based and topped with pork belly, bonito oil, manma (fermented bamboo shoots) and narutomaki (fish cake). Garcia used smoked snapper heads in his broth to cut some of the richness, hoping to leave room for the third ramen course. I still found the broth very rich and milky with a traditional Tonkotsu flavor that was very tasty.
The third ramen course was tsukemen (cold ramen dipping noodles) with two dipping soups, one prepared by each chef. By this time, I was getting a little full, but I had to give it a try. Garcia made a heavily Texas-influenced tortilla soup with roasted duck broth and cheese, and Martinez made a spicy kimchi broth done with his own house-made kimchi. Both were delicious, but I was too full to finish all my noodles. We still had dessert to eat.
But I was happy to get my noodle fix, right here in Fort Worth. I hope the chefs plan another ramen pop-up soon. If they do, I will tweet about it at @txweekendchef.
Jesus Garcia, the chef of Little Lilly Sushi, and Gino Rojas, the owner of Revolver Taco Lounge, sit down with Bud and Rick to dish on everything from their runaway success to social media to Fort Worth’s foodie revolution.
Tokyo Cafe’s Chef Kevin Martinez talks with our Weekend Chef about three new dishes that will be soon showing up on the restaurant’s new fall menu.