Imagine if you moved away from the good old USA and you couldn't get your hands on a simple burger. And if you did, it was utterly devoid of flavor, every time.
Which is essentially what happened to sushi and ramen chef Matthew Kazama, after leaving his native Matsue, Japan. Only his "burger" is ramen. He grew up on ramen, he loved ramen, and he couldn't get any good ramen here in the Twin Cities. "I didn't just grow up eating it. It was more like my entire culture," he says.
As a longtime sushi chef at Fuji Ya, Kazama wanted to try and fill the ramen gap, and he began creating regular specials featuring the delectable stringy stuff — to great effect. But just as you don't want a burger to be available only as an occasional item, nor should he (nor we) be limited to ramen just once a week. We should be able to have ramen every single day! Now, with Kazama's new restaurant, we can have ramen just about anytime. Well, not yet, but soon.
After all, the chef came here to pursue the American Dream. Which is what? A ramen shop, of course!
Ramen Kazama will be our town's first and only real-deal specialty ramen shop devoted strictly to the noodles (the chef is importing a Japanese brand called, Myojo, known for its balance and texture) and tasty broths, which he naturally makes from scratch.
While the restaurant is still in planning stages, Kazama and his partners gave us a sneak peek of the space and the menu. But they warn that nothing is yet final, and after one soft opening and a couple more to come, they're shooting for a grand opening November, though the exact date is still to-be-determined.
Which is understandable. As anyone who's opened a restaurant knows very well, it's a difficult and nerve-wracking proposition. Kazama and his partners say their singular focus is to ensure that things get done properly, passionately, and with acute attention to detail. So, they're not rushing it.
The light-filled, counter-service space occupying the southwest corner of 34th and Nicollet in south Minneapolis will serve just under 50 people "quickly and efficiently." The seating area boasts a small dining room with a communal table plus a small counter-service area where a few lucky diners will get a good view right into the open-kitchen.
Kazama and his partner, Josh Floring, designed the simple buildout themselves, using recycled materials with an eye toward modernity. They'll serve lunch and dinner daily, late nights on weekends. The place will be closed on Mondays. They're hoping for a patio next year.
In addition to being a ramen master, Kazama is also a musician and he incorporated some design elements with an eye towards his other love: the drums.
The ramen menu (again — not yet completely finalized) is a tight list of five varieties.
The kitchen will also offer gyoza (pan-fried pork pot stickers), karaage (Japanese fried chicken), gomadare gyu (lightly seared beef tenderloin), edamame, wakame salad, spicy cucumber salad, and kimchi.
A short list of rice dishes includes chashu nitamago don (pork belly with cabbage, nori, pickled ginger, and egg) as well as veggie curry and chahan (pork belly with green onion, pickled ginger, and egg). Onigiri, balls of rice shaped into triangles, which is served with your choice of pickled plums, dried bonito or chicken mayo, rounds out the unique menu.
A focused list of wine, beer, and sake will be offered with an emphasis on affordability — and in a happy turn-of-events, beer will be available by the pitcher. Also see: Japanese "J Pop," tea, and Kombucha.
"We're not high-brow here," Kazama says, adding, "We're just efficient. We want people to come in and have a cold beer and some hot ramen."
Opens in November (TBD)
3400 Nicollet Ave.,Minneapolis
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