by Jacqueline Cain | January 12, 2018 9:21 am
One day, while she was still only just thinking about the small ramen shop she would one day own in Boston, Moe Kuroki stopped into New York’s legendary Ivan Ramen for lunch.
“I felt so cool slurping up my ramen… I don’t care about these stains,” she remember thinking, as she splashed chili oil from the spicy noodle bowl onto her white shirt. But when she was finished, “I walked out the door, and I’m like, ‘Oh,'” she says, looking down. “No one knew I was at the ramen shop, and now I have a white stained shirt. So with this sentiment, I decided I’m going to just carry around a T-shirt so it’s easy enough for me to own my slurp.”
Eventually, Oisa Ramen Slurp & Go, Kuroki’s 12-seat noodle shop that opens Monday in downtown Boston, will carry white “Own Your Slurp” T-shirts for proud ramen lovers.
“Instead of going, ‘oh no, my clothes!’ put it on and own your slurp and brag about your stains,” she says. “‘This one, I got at Oisa Ramen when it first opened, this brown one is shoyu ramen from Ivan.'”
Kuroki, who has done Oisa Ramen as a pop-up around Boston for more than three years, has teamed up with business partner George Kao on the brick-and-mortar venture. Kao was the national sales director for Sun Noodle for the past several years, which is the brand Kuroki uses in her bowls.
“We became really fascinated with each other’s knowledge, and we work really well together,” Kao says. “This Oisa Ramen Slurp & Go is our first iteration of what we think ramen can become, especially in Boston.”
The small storefront has a handful of low stools in front of a window facing Broad Street, and a standing bar in front of Kuroki’s open kitchen. Guests can watch her prepare the bowls a la minute, but so much has gone on behind the scenes before she serves each one. Namely, that’s building the broth, either her traditional tonkotsu (pork bone) soup, or the vegan-friendly shoyu base she builds with a variety of aromatic vegetables.
“Every ramen shop has a style. Are you a pork broth house? Are you a chicken broth house? The beauty in a mirepoix was something that captivated chef Moe,” Kao says.
Smoky shoyu—with tomato Sun Noodles, burnt shallot oil, shiitake mushrooms, trumpet mushroom menma, and an herbaceous addition of scallions and thinly sliced cilantro—is Oisa Ramen’s signature dish, priced at $8, because ramen is an everyday food for Kuroki. Guests can add pork belly chasu and truffled mushrooms for $4 each, and mustard greens and a soy egg each for $2.
The other two noodle bowls on the opening menu are shoyu elevated with truffles and a soy egg ($14), and tonkotsu ($15) with chasu, pickled mustard greens, pickled ginger, and a soy egg. The pork bone broth is common in her native Fukuoka, Japan, and is the dish that got the self-taught chef started in the world of ramen.
For Kuroki, ramen is “a snack, something to dive into, crush, and go. Not a full dining experience all the time. I would go out with my dad after we would have dinner,” she says.
Kuroki actually picked up a bunch of 15-minute hourglass timers to encourage guests to “own their slurp” within that timeframe. After 15 minutes, “the noodles can get soggy, the soup temperature can get down low,” she says. “We try to carry the flavors through different temperatures so you taste different things, and hopefully within 15 minutes it’s a good transformation from beginning to end.”
So, they won’t serve soup to go. But for the lunch crowd that needs to get back to the office, Slurp & Go has three donburi (rice bowls), including salmon poke ($14), a rich American wagyu sukiyaki ($16), and a vegetarian sukiyaki ($12).
For dining in, it offers two Japanese beers, two sake choices, and cans of Pampelonne sparkling wine cocktails. There are also cans of soda, and green and oolong teas.
With Sun Noodle, Kao had access to a plethora of ramen-eating data. Most bowls are slurped in just 13 minutes in Japan, while the typical American experience is 40 minutes or more. The Slurp & Go setup, he says, “will give, hopefully, Bostonian diners a whole new idea and demystify things about ramen.”
Slurp & Go officially opens Monday, Jan. 15, and to start, it serves lunch Monday-Friday from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
2 Broad St., Boston, oisaramen.com.
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