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Long lines hamper Ramen Attack! block party

An exercise in extreme patience: Ramen Attack attracts a few too many fans
An exercise in extreme patience: Ramen Attack attracts a few too many fans
Joy Summers


As Chef John Ng and Lina Goh were plotting their first Ramen Attack! event, we warned them: If the weather is nice, you'll likely be inundated. There haven't been many ramen events in the Twin Cities, but we've learned from the past two that people will show up in droves for the chance to slurp some of that flavorful broth and silky noodles in the warm afternoon sunshine.


Last Sunday, we headed over to Ramen Attack! at Zen Box Izakaya and stood in line so you didn't have to.

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This is going to take some time
This is going to take some time
Joy Summers

Before we even set foot inside the gates we were warned that the expected wait for a bowl of savory broth and fresh noodles from Sun Noodles would run in the hour and a half range.  We took note of the lack of line for Surly and sake and decided to push forth with some brews in hand.

Mu Daiko drummers entertained the crowd
Mu Daiko drummers entertained the crowd
Joy Summers

Two prominent ramen chefs had flown in for the event. Chef Shigetoshi Nakamura, considered one of the "Four Ramen Devas" -- gods of the cuisine -- is the author of several cookbooks, has competed with the chef of Ippudo of New York, has been recognized by Ferran Adria of the famed El Bulli, and appeared on Food Network's Chopped

The other celebrity chef was Mihoko Obunai, a Japanese native who was trained at the French Culinary Institute. She's appeared in Bon Appetit and Food & Wine and also competed on Chopped.

Expectations were high, but did we mention the lines? Here's a great Vine that illustrates the length from Laurence Ducker (@LaDucker):


Plenty of time to wait also left plenty of time to Tweet:


 

Guests paid $2 to get through the gate and then purchased tickets for food and beverages. In addition to the ramen there were beef hot dogs, Takoyaki dogs (fried octopus dumplings topped with Tonkatsu sauce, shredded cabbage and bonito flakes), plus tofu dogs.

 
The line for non-ramen food was easy to navigate
The line for non-ramen food was easy to navigate
Joy Summers

Generally, the crowd seemed to take the line in stride, but as the sun began to wane and there were still many more folks ahead of us, things looked bleak. The descriptions of the visiting chefs' ramen were removed from the wall and several in line were ready to storm the castle if we weren't going to have the opportunity to sample all three varieties.
Chef Mihoko with her sous chefs hard at work over her spicy, smoky broth 
Chef Mihoko with her sous chefs hard at work over her spicy, smoky broth
 
Joy Summers
What helped keep spirits high was the beautiful weather with unseasonably high temperatures, thumping good times music provided by the DJ, and a steady stream of chefs and friendly food lovers.

Lovely ladies of the ramen line: Christina Nguyen of Hola Arepa and Kat Melgaard of The Left Handed Cook
Lovely ladies of the ramen line: Christina Nguyen of Hola Arepa and Kat Melgaard of The Left Handed Cook
Joy Summers

Spotted in the crowd were members of the Travail chef team, The Left Handed Cook/ Rabbit Hole owners Thomas Kim and Kat Melgaard, Birk Stefan Grudem and Christina Nguyen of Hola Arepa, the entire kitchen staff at Corner Table, and others.

The line behind us shrank as ramen hopefuls gave up. But finally, finally, as the streets were being cleared for the block party's 6 o'clock deadline dictated by the city, we were the happy recipients of steaming, hot, beautiful bowls of ramen.

Chef Ng of Zen Box Izakaya plating his "dry"-style ramen
Chef Ng of Zen Box Izakaya plating his "dry"-style ramen
Joy Summers

Throughout the day, Lina Goh, who co-owns Zen Box Izakaya with her husband, Chef John Ng, was running all over trying to do what she could to make the event run smoothly, despite the seemingly infinite ramen line. She and her staff remained positive and helpful in the face of frustrated customers. "I'm so sorry about the wait," Goh remarked more than once. One server told us that she had experienced several frustrated customers, but that most people were courteous.


Inching ever closer to the bowl of gold
Inching ever closer to the bowl of gold
Joy Summers
Ramen Annoyance
Ramen Annoyance
Joy Summers

At a certain point, the challenge of the line became personal: This day would not end without ramen. Our extreme patience was finally rewarded with steaming hot bowls of each ramen variety.

 


Chef Ng's "dry" style ramen were a heap of beautiful noodles topped with beef brisket, tart little mushrooms, and perfectly dressed Mizuna greens creating a rich, tart, lovely bowl.

Beef brisket topped "dry" style ramen (meaning there's very little broth) from Chef John Ng
Beef brisket topped "dry" style ramen (meaning there's very little broth) from Chef John Ng
Joy Summers

Chef Mihoko's bowl was a wonderful yellow-orange hue with a delightful smokiness that can come from only one source: bacon. It was pungent and spicy, soft, balanced, and simply delicious.

Chef Nakamura's Old School Tokyo style ramen was made with a beautifully porky base and a perfectly cooked egg half. The yolk mixed into that broth, hugging each noodle, and with perfectly balanced flavor and texture, each bowl was a wonder. Or perhaps we were just a little high on our apparent victory over the longest line we've likely ever endured.

No school like the old school
No school like the old school
Joy Summers

While it seems like a simple dish, every element of ramen is labored over. There are different styles of noodles, and the length, thickness, and preparedness (from super soft to al dente) all varies. The real magic of the ramen, some say, are the luxurious broths, each with its own personality and as varied as the chefs who prepare them. Long simmered stock renders every bit of collagen and fat into a rich mix. Each bowl we sampled had a delicate lattice-work of liquified fat, stretching a translucent layer over the densely flavored soup.

Part of the problem with a ramen festival is the amount of time each bowl requires. The broth was all made before the event, but each batch of noodles requires its own prep work, and there are only so many that can be made at one time. The word on the line was that the chefs were struggling with the amount of time the water was taking to get to the proper boil. Water would roil, cooking the noodles until it was saturated with starch. It would then need to be dumped and a fresh pot started. Each bowl required several additional elements, artfully arranged -- and these things just take time.

Near the end of the day, Goh said she was uncertain if Ramen Attack! will return for another year. It's going to take a long nap and a lot of planning to get them back again. Although we might never have stayed had we known the path to ramen would take over three and a half hours, it would be nice to try again.

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Zen Box Izakaya

602 Washington Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455

612-332-3936

www.zenboxizakaya.com


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