It may still look like you're at the Tanoshii ramen bar in Deep Ellum, but almost all of the dishes on the menu (not to mention the owners and chef) are new. Next year, George Itoh and chef Andy Tam will close the restaurant for a full remodeling and officially reopen as Ichigoh Ramen Lounge. In the meantime, they're developing the new menu one dish and drink at a time. Here are five of the best things we've tried so far.
1. Tako Wasabi ($4). This izakaya snack of sliced raw octopus marinated in peppery green wasabi is on a few menus around town, but Itoh and Tam are still worried the slimy-chewy texture will scare us off. Taste it and prove them wrong. The octopus is imported from Japan, and it makes a cool, contrasting start to a bowl of ramen.
2. Niboshi Shoyu Ramen ($13) with Seasoned Egg ($2). The ramen that Itoh hopes to make Ichigoh's signature dish is based on one that Tam ate in Toyko. Clear chicken stock gains complexity from shoyu tare seasoning and niboshi oil, which Tam makes from Spanish mackerel, bonito and dried sardines. There is no fishy flavor, just deep umami surrounding moist pork belly, crisp nori and the springy imported Japanese noodles used in all of the ramen dishes here.
3. Veggie Shoyu Ramen ($12) with Tofu Skin ($3). This surprisingly intense ramen was my favorite, with dark, clear broth made from cabbage, root vegetables, roasted peanuts and sesame seeds, and seasoned with oil tinged with roasted onion and garlic. It's balanced, delicious and mysterious. How is this possibly vegetarian? If you're missing that slice of pork belly, the fried tofu skin should keep you happy.
4. Rich Tonkotsu Ramen ($12) with Poached Egg ($2). One of the only holdovers from the old Tanoshii, the milky, porky broth is made from the 16-hour Tanoshii recipe and enhanced with pork fat and dark garlic oil (and no dairy), with a slippery raft of pork belly on top. If you liked it then, enjoy it while you can. It won't be on the menu when Ichigoh opens next year.
5. Poison Girl ($12). In an homage to Tam's menu, barman Danilo Vela's cocktail plays with the tension between simplicity and complexity. A clear variation on milk punch, it is served in a martini glass without garnish, looking utterly tasteless. But the gin has been infused with muddled cantaloupe and is tinged with a lingering, creamy sweetness.