We've waited so long for this: A first look at Ramen Kazama

"Old School:" Pork and chicken broth with pork belly and boiled egg. Grandma never made soup this good.

"Old School:" Pork and chicken broth with pork belly and boiled egg. Grandma never made soup this good.

When we talk about the Twin Cities as an emerging world-class dining scene, what we really mean is that we have an emerging national-class dining scene. And even then, it might be somewhat wrong-headed to compare ourselves to other big dining towns (New York, San Francisco, even Portland) because these comparisons are lumping together apples and anvils and puppy dogs. We are our own thing, as are they, and we should be happy with that. 

But now that Ramen Kazama has sprouted up in south Minneapolis, it might be time to reconsider that world-class designation.

The Twin Cities have been woefully underserved when it comes to How Japanese People Really Eat, which is such a shame because that dazzling culture is reflected so remarkably in the cuisine. Cut-rate sushi, or even high-end sushi is only the tip of the 'berg where it comes to this complex cooking tradition.

Japanese native Matthew Kazama had been working as a sushi chef for about a decade at Fuji Ya, one of Minneapolis' longest-standing sushi restaurants. But he missed a basic, yet universal Japanese birthright: the ramen shop. 

He began a weekly ramen program at Fuji-Ya, to much fanfare, but it wasn't the same, was it, to not be able to do this daily? To scootch up on a stool, and bury one's face in a steamy bowl, commiserating, just yourself and the noodles, willing them to cool with every slurp? No, there was only one thing left to do and that was to open a proper ramen shop. Just ramen, no sushi, and a few small drinking snacks to go with big mugs of Sapporo. 

It's difficult to believe this south Minneapolis ramen shop on a modest stretch of Nicollet next door to a Chinese American takeout joint has only been open a couple of short weeks. Despite reports of lines around the block, the place is thrumming on all cylinders as though it's been there forever. Had you airlifted us into the place from another city, there's no way you'd be able to tell us any different.  "Shoyu" or pork and chicken broth ramen eats like a very skilled grandmother's broth — exquisitely and harmoniously seasoned, with zero imbalance. A showstopping masterpiece of a dish. The "magma" or spicy miso broth with ground pork, red chili pepper, and chili bean sauce is the yin to Shoyu's yang, all boisterous, colorful, and noisy, but no less elegant. Myojo brand noodles are being imported from Japan. This is truly wonderful eating, and at $12.50 a bowl, we predict more lines around the block as the days grow darker and colder and our lust for these medicinal soups grows more frenzied.  Little drinking snacks to amuse yourself while waiting for the main event are equally expertly prepared and special. Handmade gyoza have tissue-paper delicate skins, and a hard sear one one edge is shatter-crisp. Karaage, Japanese fried chicken, is tough to find expertly done around here, and we loved this one not only for its signature crunch, but for the moisture within, the telltale sign of an adroit professional. A little chile mayo makes for a lavish completion of the bite. 

The interior of the space is all stripped down, rock-and-roll hip. Nothing too fancy, nothing extra, just drum kits repurposed into light fixtures, naked bulbs hanging down like observant eyeballs, chefs in black T's working with the focused precision all of this takes, and you, sake in hand wondering how the hell all of this happened, seemingly overnight. 

Ramen Kazama: straight from Japan to Minnesota.

Ramen Kazama: straight from Japan to Minnesota.

But before you become too awed, remember that we've been deprived of all of this for far too long. At this point, we should come to think of it as our birthright. After all, Kazama says he left Japan and landed here to pursue the American Dream. We're so glad he did because this is what our eating dreams are made of. 

Now open 

Ramen Kazama 

3400 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis