Arts & Culture

Off-beat ramen bar opens downtown

Ken’s Ramen brings stereotypical college staple to new level in eclectic atmosphere

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The yaki-buta, an appetizer, is a steamed bun served with a sliver of juicy and tender barbecued pork.

Barely larger than a dorm room, Ken’s Ramen disappears into Washington Street, hiding behind a blockade of excited college students and locals and a series of papered-up windows.

The noodle bar is hosting a pre-soft opening Feb. 12 through March 1 with a limited menu and reduced hours. On a weekend, you’ll likely find interested patrons arriving before the restaurant opens at 6 p.m. to try to ensure a spot in the small restaurant, which has only a few tables and seats at the bar.

The wait for one of these spots lasted around 45 minutes even after arriving close to opening time on a recent night — an outside wait that, in this weather, can become irksome, especially because there is little along the barren street to occupy your attention. Attempts to peek over the white paper into the restaurant’s interior proved vain, providing few hints to what waited beyond the chilly sidewalk.

Thus it was certainly surprising to find that a giant portrait of Fred Flintstone waited behind the restaurant’s closed doors. The portrait complements Ken’s upbeat, relaxed atmosphere. The bar features sleek light wood paneling, which looks fashionable but not flashy. From your seat, you can see giant vats of ramen noodles and the colorfully attired chefs, bobbing their heads along to Kanye classics. Even the website, which features a Biggie Smalls quote and a picture of Abraham Lincoln in a paper hat, speaks to the restaurant’s off-beat vibe.

The pre-soft opening’s set menu offers two appetizer, two main course and three drink options. To start off the meal, Ken’s serves a yaki-buta bun — a pork bun, though a vegetarian bun is also available — and cha shu curry don.

The appetizers arrive within a few minutes of being seated, which, combined with the wait staff’s respectful persistence, hints at the restaurant’s quick-turnaround business model. The vibe already precludes it from serving couples looking for a romantic night on the town, and the small space is certainly not designed for lengthy meals. Yet for college students craving comfort food served alongside some fantastic beats, Ken’s Ramen far exceeds expectations.

The yaki-buta comes with a sliver of juicy and tender barbecued pork adorned with an orange sauce that tastes surprisingly similar to chipotle mayo over a thick, soft steamed bun.

When it comes to pork buns, Ken’s Ramen will “do it better than anybody you ever seen do it,” as Kanye would say. The sparingly used sauce complements the perfectly seasoned meat without overwhelming it. Diners might only wish for a bit more pork — the portion is rather small compared to the amount of bun. Three bites of the pork teases the palate and begs for more.

The cha shu curry don is also on point, with a mild but flavorful curry over bits of barbecued pork and steamed rice. The curry’s spice is further softened by a peanut sauce — essentially natural peanut butter without the sweetener — served alongside the dish or kicked up a notch with a yummy pepper sauce. Either way, the dish features more pork, which, at Ken’s, is really all you could want.

The entrees include Ken’s paitan ramen, a chicken-based dish, and Ken’s tan tan mazemen, a soupless ramen.

The paitan ramen with chicken tastes close to the popular, microwavable ramen. It’s good in that you get what you expect — something very similar to chicken noodle soup — but if you are looking for a unique dish, the tan tan mazemen is a far better choice. It highlights many of the restaurant’s strengths: Its thick, fresh noodles excellently hold the dish’s rich flavors. The ramen noodles’ texture also complements the tender pork, which is deliciously more present here than in the appetizers. Fresh vegetables offset the richness of the noodles and pork, ensuring the hearty dish isn’t overwhelming. And when you’re full, definitely ask for a doggy bag — the servings are generous, and it would be sinful to abandon any of these noodles to a landfill.

 

Ken’s Ramen. 69 Washington St. 6-10 p.m. Pre-soft opening Tuesday through Saturday until March 1.  www.kenramenpvd.com.