HOLY SWEET HELL, RAMEN IS ALIVE AND WELL IN RICHMOND!! No, not the stuff you buy from the store for $.15 when you are broke. I mean actual, authentic Japanese-style ramen. Sure, other places in Richmond claim they have it. Reality is they are just making Asian spaghetti (at least that’s what it seems like). Truly, the only place putting authentic bowls of it on the table is Shoryuken Ramen. From its humble beginning at friends’ parties to various pop-up’s to brick & mortar, Shoryuken has been doing it right for well over a year now.
Shoryuken Ramen is the brainchild of Will Richardson, who is the head chef and co-owner. I had the pleasure of meeting Will in June 2014 when he sat down with my partner Marcella and I to record our ForkItRVA podcast. Little did I know at the time, but Will was on the cusp of something big for RVA. Will started small, with parties at friends’ houses. Realizing that was small potatoes, he took the next step. He teamed up with Sarah Choi, who took on the hefty job of the non-kitchen duties (like hosting and scheduling), and they began running Shoryuken Ramen as a pop-up restaurant. These pop-ups occurred at great places like The Rouge Gentlemen, Balliceaux and Nacho Mama’s. Each pop-up was limited in size and did those tickets go QUICK!! Thankfully, I had the foresight to reserve tickets early for each event. With every pop-up, Will was able to refine his ramen a little more. His broth took on new levels of flavor and depth with each fresh attempt. His meat went from hunks to the easier to manage shredded pork. Each pop-up was a learning experience and Will really embraced that. There was always a ramen special offered at each one. I made sure to get that each time as it proved to always be delicious. Eventually Shoryuken Ramen was too big and on such a roll that these pop-ups weren’t enough to contain the goodness. So, the show took up temporary residence at Lunch on Monday & Tuesday nights. I was fortunate enough to go several times. Seating was limited so reservations were smart. Plus they usually sold out super early in the night. Richmond had developed an appetite for ramen apparently. The hunt for a permanent location was on. After quite a bit of searching, Will & Sarah decided to team up with the Bufford’s, of Toast & Hutch fame, to take over the old Dash: Kitchen and Carry space near VCU. Doors opened on April 13, 2015 and there has been no looking back. The Shoryuken Ramen Ninjas (as they call themselves) hit the ground sprinting with no tiring in sight.
The restaurant is located at 900 E. Franklin St. on the VCU campus. During the school year parking can be tough due to the college students, but it’s not impossible. Just keep an eye out on the street and have hope. Worst comes to worst, just throw it up on the curb. That would be nothing out of the ordinary over there. It’s not a massive restaurant space, but it seats roughly 50 people. There is a “private” dining area to the right when you walk in for those looking to get away from the open seating plan in the front of the restaurant. The bonus to the front is the massive number of windows which makes it bright and cheery during the day. At night the space is nicely lit thanks in part to a lighted wall dividing the front dining area from the bar designed by co-owner Josh Buford himself. The lighting starts roughly halfway up the wall and goes to the ceiling. It is a custom made piece which gives the area a great feel. The bar is spacious and inviting with functional seating. By that I mean you are able to hold a conversation with more than just the person next to you, unlike some bars where you are cramped in. The artwork on the walls gives an authentic Japanese feel to the place. The giant koi fish (made by the folks at Sure Hand Signs) on the wall to your right upon walking in is wonderful. I wouldn’t hate to see them mural around it, but on its own it’s still great looking. All in all, it’s a pretty nice space and quite conducive to enjoying a fresh bowl of ramen.
Currently, you can only get your ramen fix at dinner time. Hopefully we will see lunch soon. I personally don’t think ramen twice a day sounds bad. For now, doors open at 5pm and stay open till 11pm Monday to Thursday. They are open till midnight Friday and Saturday and closed Sunday (we all deserve a break). Happy hour is 5 to 7 each night at the bar. Well, drinks are all across the restaurant. Non-menu food specials are at the bar only. The drinks are excellent and were all created by the brilliant Sean Rapoza. They are all references to Street Fighter characters and moves (that’s kinda the theme of things here). I really enjoy the Blanka’s Batida which is made with Cachaca 51 (a distilled spirit made from sugarcane), pressed lime, muddled fruit & sichuan peppercorn syrup. It is not terribly sweet, which you would assume from the fruit and the sugarcane. The peppercorn syrup really helps to reign that in as does the lime juice. It’s an excellent summer drink. I’m also a fan of the Flash Kick which is made of Tito’s handmade vodka, ginger beer, pressed lime & super spicy chili kick. The kick truly provides some heat to this drink so if spice isn’t for you, avoid this. I have yet to make ACTUAL happy hour, so I have not had the pleasure of diving into the food offerings. I did happen to score a plate of the pork meatballs late night recently. These slightly bigger than bite-sized beauties come resting on a wonderful puree of… I have no clue. It was delicious though. Each meatball is topped with a few pieces of pickled jalapeno to add a tiny bit of that oh-so-good hotness that all food requires. The meatballs themselves have a wonderful slightly spicy porky flavor. I could eat about a dozen as a warm up. I look forward to hitting up the other offerings soon.
Now, I will admit that this post is long long overdue. I have eaten at Shoryuken Ramen roughly, ummm…. 50 times since April. I have sampled a giant swath of the menu. That being said, I’m going to describe my LAST time there. I was there to pick Sally up from work so when she got off we ordered food. To me it is a great sign when your employees, who deal with this food for hours at a time, are still eager to sit down after work to enjoy it themselves. I’ve worked in restaurants and I will say that is not always the case. Most of the time you are so sick of looking at it and smelling it you just want anything else at the end of your day. We started off with 3 of the appetizers because they are a must; the Ajitama Deviled Eggs (which, due to insane egg prices, are currently not on the menu. Still, I will discuss them in hopes they are back in the future), the Tofu Sliders and the Smothered Tots.
First, let’s talk about the Ajitama Deviled Eggs. These are seasoned with soy and topped differently each day. That day they were ginger scallion. The flavor is amazing. The savoryness of the fatty yolk is accented perfectly by the sweet-spiciness of the ginger. The scallions provide texture and a slight hint of earthy onion. I love the deviled eggs and I order them every time I go. Don’t be afraid to use your fingers either. They are not the most chopstick-friendly food.
Next up are the Tofu Sliders. You can also get either Chashu (braised pork) or Katsu (Japanese style fried pork cutlet) sliders, which are both good. We decided to with tofu, as both Sally & I are big tofu fans. This is in “slabs”. It’s marinated after it’s been pressed. Then, it is sliced and seasoned. Those slabs are then grilled to absolute perfection, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They take these perfect slabs and serve them on a Hawaiian roll with house pickles, a touch of tangy sauce & Japanese potato salad. These tiny sandwiches are heaven. Everything about them is just so right. The flavor is there thanks to the marination on the tofu and the sauce on the already stunning Hawaiian roll. I’m not one for potato salad, as you all know. Still, I tried it, like any good customer would. It’s very good. Nothing crazy or weird. I would eat it again and that says a lot.
Last, but not least, the Smothered Tots. These are the brainchild of Sarah Choi. Give that woman a damn medal, because these things are Olympic winners. Tater tots, Chashu, scallions & spicy Kewpie mayo make up this seemingly simple dish. In reality, it is anything but simple. It starts with humble tater tots, a fan favorite for most people from childhood. Even me, and I strongly dislike potatoes. These tiny pillows of goodness are baked up to perfection and lovingly placed in a basket. Don’t worry, plenty of these little fellas make it in there so they aren’t lonely. The magicians in the back then put perfectly cooked Chashu pork on the top, like a blanket of slightly salty porky goodness. Want to make sure those little fellas stay cozy in that basket. Then they dress them up with a silky smooth Kewpie mayo. Kewpie mayo is made with rice vinegar with gives it a bit more tang. It balances out the pork nicely. Finally they toss on some scallions, just to be healthy. Green things are healthy, right? Each bite of this dish is spectacular.
To top off our appetizers, we got a bowl of ramen. Because, well duh! That’s what they do here. Sally told the kitchen to make us something delightful. They were more than happy to oblige. Our bowl was a Shoyu (soy sauce based) tare (broth). It was loaded with the alkali noodles that define ramen. These noodles are made different from other noodles specifically to hold up in broth for long periods of time. We were also given pickled mushrooms (my favorite), sliced bamboo, kimchi corn and pork belly. This bowl had a ton of great flavors going on. Let’s dive in, shall we? The tare has a very mild and salty taste due to it being made with soy sauce. While still a salty base, it is less intense than the shio tare (which is sea salt based and my favorite). Just an FYI to all people who don’t understand science… things made with salt are bound to taste SALTY. Therefore, please don’t be shocked or appalled that the tare is salty. That should be obvious. That being said, the tare is truly the foundation upon which this house is built. Thankfully, due to careful crafting in the kitchen, this foundation is solid to the core. The noodles, as always, were amazing. I love the slight spring they maintain the entire time they exist, which isn’t very long. Will and his grandmother perfected the noodle recipe over 9 long months and then sourced a company in Japan to make them to that specification. They are shipped over here on a continual basis so we may indulge. The vinegary tang of the mushrooms is one of the best parts of the dish, as far as I’m concerned. Even Sally, an AVID hater of mushrooms, likes these. Somehow, even after marinating in their liquid, the mushrooms don’t get slimy. HOW that is possible, I do not know, but I like it. The sliced bamboo is a silent star in this dish. I have always hated water chestnuts. I don’t like the weird crunchy texture. I figured the bamboo would be exactly the same way. The thought made me uncomfortable. After trying it though, I see how wrong I was. The bamboo is firm, not crunchy. It has a pleasing earthy flavor to it. It’s subtle in the ramen, but necessary. The firecracker of this proverbial July 4th party is the kimchi corn. This stuff is crazy. It’s crunchy. It also quite literally pops and fizzles on your tongue. It’s a crazy, yet delightful feeling. Regardless of what you get next time, get a little side cup. Finally that leaves us with the pork belly. That salty, meaty, just-the-right-kinda-fatty, sexy, delicious pork belly. I don’t have to say much more really…
I know what you’re thinking. “Nick is just shooting off at the mouth here. It can’t be that good.” Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s really not that great. Mayhaps I am just making this out to be better for a variety of potential reasons. Or… I’m not. I direct your attention to the trophy that currently sits on the bar at Shoryuken Ramen. It is the Broad Appétit 2015 Richmond Magazine’s “To Dine For” Main Dish Award. Basically all that means is that Shoryuken Ramen put the best dish (cold noodles with Hiyashi Chuka) on the table out of 75 restaurants. Sooooo… maybe I’m onto something here. If you still don’t believe me you can always go out to all these other places serving ramen and plop down your hard earned cash money for a mediocre imitation bowl of soup. Or you can put on your ninja pants and head out for a real dish of Japanese ramen from Shoryuken Ramen. Choose wisely young grasshopper.