The Real Deal

Photographs by Thomas Mcgovern
left: Tonkotsu miso, regular or spicy, is the chef’s specialty right: Executive Chef Shigero Ito

Stamford foodies have long taken pride in the broad range of global cuisine served in town. Stand on the corner of Broad and Summer streets and within several blocks, in any direction, one can find Italian, Argentinian, Japanese, Spanish, Australian, Indian, Mexican, Irish, Greek, French and Peruvian dishes being served. Broaden the radius and you’ll also find Ethiopian, Jamaican and Korean restaurants.

So, it was welcome news when we heard about the opening of Kyushu Ramen, offering hearty bowls of marvelous wheat noodles served in steaming broth topped with just about any combination of ingredients you may crave.

Is it like the noodle destinations you’ll find in Japan? Yes and no. Indeed, the ramen here is authentic, filling and delicious, but Kyushu’s menu includes many other offerings (more on that later), a contrast to traditional Japanese noodle shops, which are no-frills, fast-food places offering a selection of ramen with only a few seats at a bar, and a line out the door. They are noisy, and their menus are filled with pictures of ramen preparations. You grab a ticket under the picture, give it to an employee, and presto, your ramen is served.

There may be no lines out Kyushu’s door, or people shouting your order, but this eatery is ultra-casual, sleek and clean. As soon as you walk in, comforting aromas of ramen broth greet and draw you into the space,
a small yet inviting location with wood-topped tables intermingled with communal high-tops that accentuate its friendly vibe. We settled in for what became a feast of flavors from a menu where noodles may be the star but not the only cast member.

To appreciate ramen one must understand its origins: It arrived in Japan from China in the early 1900s, and has been a hit ever since. Every region of Japan has its own version, suggesting at least twenty-six varieties, though within regions, one can find distinctions in flavor and preparation.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we arrived at Kyushu eager for ramen. Named for the third largest island in Japan, the restaurant offers two types of soup bone bases, pork and chicken. The pork base is simmered for hours to achieve a complex and rich broth, while the chicken is lighter but equally satisfying. Both capture that umami flavor critical for authentic Asian food, and feature the requisite wheat noodles made simply from flour and kansui, an alkaline mineral water.

Firecracker shrimp and beef brisket steamed buns from the small plates menu

Of the myriad choices, we opted for two bowls: the tonkotsu miso (pork) and the shio (chicken). The tonkotsu, in addition to noodles and sliced pork belly, featured ground pork, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, soy-sauce egg, scallions and corn. This is a thick broth with a depth of flavors and textures with a long finish; each perfectly cooked element had us digging into the bowl for more earthy umami that warmed us from head to toe. (For those who prefer their meal with a little kick, a spicy tonkotsu miso is also offered.)

The shio was lighter and clearer, and delivered a deep chicken flavor. It was rave-worthy, for sure, though we were partial to the intensity and complexity of the pork ramen, and for us, ramen is all about the base. But if you like lighter fare, look no further. You can also have the chicken base with pork belly, seafood or vegetable add-ins to mix things up.

(You may also want to consider trying the Vegetarian—miso, spinach noodles, shiitake mushrooms, konbu seaweed, tofu, onions, bean sprouts and chives.)

If you order nothing else but a bowl of ramen, trust me—you will be full and happily sated. But do yourself a favor and try some small plates, too. We did and we were glad for it.

The starter salad was a delight: baby greens, mango slices, blueberries, red onion and tomatoes, topped with a subtle, ginger-infused dressing. Equally satisfying was the firecracker shrimp, tempura-battered and lightly fried with a tangy sauce that was a fantastic complement to the salt and crunch of each bite.

The menu also has a steamed buns section: pork belly, shrimp cake, friend chicken, vegetable and, the one we chose, beef brisket. The buns, soft, moist and chewy—as they should be—were served with a healthy portion of brisket filling accompanied by a ’cuke and Japanese pickle and the best-tasting spicy horseradish I’ve had in a long time. Next time, I am ordering this dish again. And I’m not sharing.

The pork belly rice bowl rounded out our meal. This sweet-and-sour presentation, made with short-grain Japanese rice and large-diced pieces of pork, was another delightful, comforting dish. Just know that the flavorful sauce tends to pool in the bottom, so stir—and continue to stir—as you enjoy this dish. If I had to find fault, we would have appreciated a tad more sauce.

One more thing for all of you with a sweet tooth: Try a Milk Bubble Tea or Fruit Tea. Both may be loaded with sugar, but the chewy tapioca bubbles make it such a fun way to cap our flavorful evening at Kyushu.

Vegetable ramen


RAMEN ETIQUETTE

Slurping Required
How to properly savor a bowl of piping hot ramen

Ignore your mom’s rules about table manners. When enjoying a bowl of ramen, you are allowed—better yet, encouraged—to slurp. Why? With slurping you inhale as you taste the flavors, allowing for a better sensory appreciation of the full umami of the base broth, all while helping you cool down the piping hot noodles. In Japan, ramen is fast food, not something to linger over. There’s a reason for that; noodles may get soggy if you take your time.

So, once a bowl is placed in front of you, hold that thought of whatever conversational point you were about to make, and dig in instead.


EAT LIKE A PRO

Basic Training
Your guide to a genuine dining experience

1. Load your chopsticks with noodles using your dominant hand.
2. Hold a soup spoon with your non-dominant hand.
3. Lean over the bowl.
4. Put the noodles into your mouth, slurp them up, using the spoon to finish your mouthful with broth.
5. Feel free to use the chopsticks to guide the longer noodle strands into your mouth.

The steps might seem like a hot mess but it’s worth it. Just concentrate on the bowl in front of you, not at who is watching you or listening in. (Trust us: No one cares.)

Also, it is perfectly acceptable to pick up the bowl and sip from the rim. It’s a piece of cake. Since the slurping already took you out of your comfort zone, drinking from the bowl’s rim will be like child’s play.


KYUSHU RAMEN
235 Bedford St.
203-614-8689
kyushuramennoodles.com

CUISINE: Japanese

HOURS:
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
Sat., 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Sun., noon–10 p.m.

 

 

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