Dining out is a form of social interaction that is ubiquitous in our lives today. Of course, when I traveled abroad, I’ve done a fair amount of solo dining, and sometimes eating alone did feel better, especially when I had the opportunity to savor some of the best meals of my life without anyone bothering me. More often, though, I’ve visited restaurants with friends and acquaintances primarily as a means to catch up and get to know one another. The Japanese ramen chain Ichiran has turned this premise upside down. For Ichiran, eating is a solitary experience, and it shows in their system at their chains throughout Japan. In this brutally efficient system, a customer walks in and buys a meal ticket at a vending machine and then sits down at one of the individual booths where the ramen (there is only one pork-bone-broth tonkotsu) arrives based on the customer’s flavor preference. In the first U.S. outpost in Brooklyn that my girlfriend and I had visited recently, there was no vending machine and the dining space was half solo booths and half group seating, so we were certainly relieved not to have that weird experience where we felt like we were cramming for final exams. But I digress; let’s talk about how awesome the ramen at Ichiran is.
What I loved most about the dining experience at Ichiran is how much you can customize your tonkotsu ramen. If the flavor doesn’t turn out right, you have only yourself to blame because you get to control everything from seasoning to richness of the broth to firmness of the noodle, and decide whether (and how much) to include garlic, scallion, sliced pork and spicy red sauce. My girlfriend and I are usually averse to overly salty dishes, so we went for light seasoning with medium richness for the broth but did add plenty of spicy red sauce. I also ordered firm noodle (which I’m always partial to compared to the ones with softer texture), and also added tonkotsu egg. The result was one phenomenal ramen that displayed such delightful flavor in the broth without overpowering my palate with heavy sensation. The noodle’s texture was also more or less perfect so I felt like a smart person for ordering extra noodle before the ramen dish arrived. I was suffering from a somewhat rough hangover from a friend’s wedding the previous day, so having this beautiful ramen was such a relief to my body and spirit! For dessert, we shared matcha almond pudding with green tea sauce that wasn’t overly sweet just to my liking.
When Ichiran first opened last year in Bushwick, it was notorious for having long lines that stretched for more than a block and when my girlfriend and I got near the restaurant, we saw the long walking line areas just outside the restaurant. Perhaps because the hype had now died down or because it was still very early when we arrived, we didn’t see any two-legged human beings waiting outside and got seated immediately, although the group dining space got packed pretty quickly over time. There are a few beer and wine selections; I was pretty intrigued by the matcha draft beer (think beer with green tea powder sprinkled across to generate green color), but it was surprisingly pedestrian. In any event, I’m so glad Ichiran decided to expand its presence in the United States. The tonkotsu definitely belongs to the top echelon in this ramen-crazed city.
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 374 Johnson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11206
Telephone: (718) 381-0491