"Downtown needs a fabulous ramen house, kind of bare-bones, funky decor, about 20 seats, all at a counter or communal table with stools. Maybe open for lunch and afternoon snacks only. A place where they make their own noodles, but it's really all about the pork broth." That was from a blog post I wrote in December, 2011. Well, my dream has finally come true, with a few key differences.
I'm talking about Ten, the ramen shop Teiichi Sakurai (you know him as chef-owner of Tei-An) opened last week in Sylan Thirty, as Sarah Blaskovich reported. It's not downtown, but very close by, in West Dallas. It's open for lunch and dinner. The noodles are brought in, not made in house, but that's as it should be. Hand-made ramen noodles "won't taste good, to be honest," Sakurai told me in an interview when he announced, in late 2013, that he planned to open Ten, which means "heaven" in Japanese. As for the pork broth, the flagship item, tonkotsu -- pork bone broth -- ramen is certainly all about that.
The place is a little different than what chef Sakurai originally described he envisioned, which was 13 seats arranged around a toppings bar. This is a standing-only bar that looks onto the tiny kitchen, where chef Matt Hoa and another cook stand over steaming pots preparing the goods: tonkotsu ramen; shoyu ramen; pork mazemen and a couple of rice dishes. There's room for 10 to 12 to stand at that counter, and space for another three or so at a smaller counter near the door.
Here's how it works: You walk in, take a look at the giant chalkboard, decide what you'll have, go to a touch-screen to the right of the entrance, enter your items and your name, then pay with a credit card (or, if you want to pay cash, "yell at one of us," said Hoa's assistant). Take a spot at the bar and wait for your noodles. The ramens are customizable on the touch-screen. The tonkotsu, for instance, comes garnished with ginger, chashu pork, sansai (mountain vegetables), scallions and nori (and maybe one or two other things I forgot), but you can add extras to the $10 bowl like spinach or bok choy for $2, or an onsen (low-temperature-cooked) egg for $2.50. Don't worry when you look at the chalkboard if you can't tell what's included with each item -- the touch-screen gizmo will explain what's included in the basic version and what can be added. There's self-serve water on a shelf in the back, and garnishes like chile oil and cloves of garlic to crush into your bowl on the bar.
My friend and I arrived at about 11:50 (20 minutes after it opened), and didn't have to wait. Five minutes later, all the spots were taken, largely by Dallas restaurant insiders -- Oso chef Kelly Hightower and Bolsa bar director Kyle Hilla among them. (I felt like a dope because I didn't recognize chef Hightower; my friend told me who he was after he and his wife had left.) I have the impression it's probably good to get there on the early side (11:30 or so) or on the later side (lunch is over at 2 p.m.) if you don't want to wait. Still, people are in and out pretty quickly. It reopens for dinner at 6.
The place really feels like a ramen counter in Tokyo -- what a boon for those of us who get hungry around lunchtime in or near the city center.
The noodles landed before us quickly. I went for the tonkotsu, with nothing extra added, just to experience the thing at its most basic.
Of course it's too soon for me to express an opinion, as the place is so new. But I will anyway: The ramen was wonderful. The noodles were perfect, springy, lively. The toppings were spot-on. And the tonkotsu broth? Outstanding -- soulful and flavorful, rich but not hit-you-over-the-head intense. My friend's pork mazemen -- soupless ramen, which can be ordered spicy or not-spicy (she asked for not-spicy) -- was terrific, too, gently sauced, garnished with morsels of flavorful, tender pork, sliced cucumber and nori, and topped with an onsen egg. She asked for sansai and spinach as add-ons, both of which worked deliciously in it.
Who knows how things will play out when the place is slammed, which I imagine it will be soon. But just out of the gate, I'll say this: Oh, happy day.
Ten, Sylvan Thirty, 1818 Sylvan Ave., Dallas. Open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and dinner (6 to 10:30 p.m.)