Look Inside Santouka Back Bay, then Eat Ramen There Tonight
At a six-seat counter, you can watch the action in the compact kitchen at Santouka Ramen as you slurp up a bowl of signature noodle soup. Santouka’s second Boston-area restaurant, a 20-seat pocket just off Newbury Street, is now open for lunch and dinner. While the average time a guest will spend in the Back Bay shop is just about 30 minutes, the broth they’re there for is simmered over more than 20 hours by chefs Takahiro Igo and Masahiro Ito.
At lunch time today, Santouka’s chief technical officer and vice president, respectively, were measuring baskets of noodles and ladling silky shio broth into bowls to order. The duo are manning the culinary operations at the Hereford Street location. Ito is consulting for the first month, while Igo, who previously opened Santouka’s Bellevue, Washington, and Harvard Square locations, will be the Back Bay shop’s executive chef. His wife, Keiko Igo, also an alumna of the Cambridge restaurant, is supervising front-of-house operations in Boston.
The Back Bay restaurant has six different ramen bowls available and just a few add-ons, including extra chashu pork belly, and marinated soft-boiled eggs. See the full opening menu below. It won’t offer the gyoza, takayoki, and other appetizers on Cambridge’s menu, but it will eventually introduce a few rice bowls, says Nao White, a consultant for Santouka Ramen and other Japanese companies expanding in Boston. It will not take reservations nor offer takeout, per company policy. The ramen is best enjoyed on location, the chef says.
The first Santouka was a nine-seat shop in Hokkaido, Japan, that opened in 1988. The company has since grown to 50 locations in nine countries. In Boston, the locations are franchises of Plenty USA, a company dedicated to bringing Japanese brands to the United States. Plenty is considering more Boston locations, but White says Harvard Square and Back Bay might be enough.
“Santouka is almost saturated. Where are we going to go?” she says. The company considered Brookline, but determined a Santouka restaurant there would need a wide-ranging menu to appeal to families, and would need an alcohol license.
The Seaport has a trendy atmosphere, and the Financial District caters to office workers looking to have in and out quick bite. We don’t know which way we will go,” White says.
Plenty USA has recently entered into talks with several Japanese outfits about opening a sort of “ramen coliseum” in the Boston area. White has looked at locations downtown on Congress Street, and on D Street in the Seaport that could accommodate this 8-10,000-square foot smorgasboard. Popular around Japan, the idea is one large location subleased into several small, quick-service restaurants, each with its own kitchen and dining area.
“Opening a restaurant consumes a lot of energy, between kitchen plans and the hiring process. It discourages entrepreneurs from coming to Boston,” White says. “Plenty USA would like to be a liaison for these types of entrepreneurs in Japan. We will provide a space, share our experience, we have connections already. Right now, we are talking with six different ramen [restaurant] groups and other appetizers and tapas-type of restaurant groups who want to come share space with Santouka.”
Whether the Boston area will get another standalone Santouka shop or a ramen mecca, the company is eyeing spring 2017 for its next move.
In Back Bay, Santouka is open at 11 a.m. daily, with dinner served until 9 p.m. on Sundays, 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Santouka Ramen, 66 Hereford St., Boston, santouka-usa.com.