Pop-up ramen nights are wildly popular
Some off-duty chefs bring on noodle dish
Boston’s dearth of ramen spots is frequently lamented on social media pages devoted to food. Now that’s changing. Several enticing takes on the Japanese noodle soup have just surfaced.
Die-hard ramenites will be pleased to learn that local chefs are hosting pop-up ramen nights. You go online to register for the dinners and they are so popular, you are lucky if you can get in. Guchi’s Midnight Ramen, a pop-up held on Feb. 12 at 11:30 p.m. and midnight at Sportello in Fort Point Channel, sold out in minutes. Disappointed foodies vented online. “Honestly, we had no idea there would be this demand,’’ says Mark O’Leary, one of several O Ya chefs who run the ramen venture in their free time. “We didn’t have a finger on this pulse. It’s a pleasant surprise there is so much interest in the community.’’
Guchi’s is not the only new late-night ramen in town. Uni Sashimi Bar at Clio in Back Bay began serving two ramen dishes this month, a traditional bowl with pork and another called umami with barbecued eel; they are served until 2 a.m. some nights ($10 a bowl). This week, Myers + Chang in the South End added a shrimp and tofu ramen ($12) to its lunch menu after testing it as a special. In Wellesley, Blue Ginger’s lunch menu has offered three ramen soups ($12) for two years.
“Ramen is the new black,’’ writes Joanne Chang, the chef and co-owner of Myers + Chang, in an e-mail. Sous chef Kevin Rafferty created the bowl after hearing excitement build over Guchi’s ramen. Chef Chris Gould at Clio says that owner and chef Ken Oringer has wanted to serve a ramen for years. The restaurant’s recent remodeling paved the way to serve the bowls in the more informal downstairs Uni bar area.
Ramen’s appeal is that it’s “comfort food that has a complex craft behind it - sort of a chef’s artful take on what he thinks makes the bowl work, within some tradition,’’ Grant Cook of Arlington, a Chowhound contributor, writes in an e-mail.
Guchi’s Midnight Ramen at first was not intended for the public, but for other chefs after restaurants closed. The idea developed when Yukihiro Kawaguchi, a.k.a. “Guchi,’’ who works at O Ya with O’Leary, were having a drink after work last summer. Kawaguchi, a native of Japan, craved a bowl of ramen. “The evolution of the idea was: Hungry chefs know a group of hungry chefs. Let’s do this for our industry friends,’’ says Tracy Chang, a former O Ya chef and the midnight logistics coordinator.
The first pop-up event - for 30 friends - was held last month, at Bondir in Cambridge. The second, on Feb. 12, had 52 customers. There are no plans for a permanent spot; the concept is to pop-up around town every two weeks. Each event means an 18-hour day of prep and service for the participating cooks. The midnight trio is paying for the venture out of pocket, down to the bowls and chopsticks. They rely on the generosity of restaurateurs who loan their spots for the evening.
The chefs’ pedigree is a big draw for all new ramen. And their broth is not the elixir with big dollops of oil typically found in Japan’s hole-in-the-wall places; this is more emulsified and viscous.
Myers + Chang’s ramen has a rich fermented tofu broth. The noodles are from nearby Ming’s Supermarket. Uni’s ramen includes an egg cooked for two hours at a low temperature, so the creamy yolk oozes into the savory broth when the egg is broken, and noodles from a Los Angeles vendor.
Kawaguchi says the broth served at the Feb. 12 pop-up included pork bones, whole chickens, ginger, vegetables, and lots of aromatics. It simmered for 10 hours. The version to be served this weekend will probably be chicken-based only. He credits O’Leary’s handmade noodles for the dish’s success. Tracy Chang says good ramen noodles should be subtly flavored and “toothsome.’’ O’Leary’s noodles are just that.
The O Ya chef says the midnight trio plans “to keep doing this as long as there’s interest and we’ll see where it goes.’’ He hopes demand will result in more ramen options.
In the meantime, if you get a spot at the table, you are lucky indeed.
POPPING UP: Guchi’s Midnight Ramen pop-ups will be held at midnight on Sunday and Monday, Feb. 26-27, at No. 9 Park. The $24 tickets (only 42 each night) will be available by Friday through a link on Twitter @GuchiRamenNight or Guchi’s Midnight Ramen on Facebook. The menu: a chicken katsu curry bun, ramen with chicken broth, and a surprise sweet.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in yesterday’s ‘‘g’’ section about ramen on menus misidentified a Chowhound contributor from Arlington. His name is Grant Cook.