One of Dallas’ greatest summer treats is diving into a tangle of cold soba noodles at Tei-An, Teiichi Sakurai’s One Arts Plaza soba house. The wiggle and slap of icy-cold noodle, the sweet scent of its bamboo basket, the tang of its umami-rich dipping sauce: It all adds up to a singularly delicious and absolutely crave-inducing refreshment.
But this summer, cold soba has a new rival: hiyashi chuka, or cold ramen. You’ll find it listed, at least until June 28, as the “weekly special” at Ten, Sakurai’s new ramen shop in Sylvan Thirty. Dressed in a gentle soy-mirin vinaigrette, it comes garnished with julienned cucumber, sliced cold chashu pork, squiggles of finely cut tamago (sweet omelet), pickled ginger, toasted nori (seaweed) sheets, cherry tomatoes and a squirt of powerfully hot Japanese mustard. Last week when Ten debuted the dish, gomashio, ground toasted sesame seeds, was strewn on top.
Sakurai must have been pretty confident when he named Ten, which means heaven in Japanese. Happily, it lives up to its name.
In no time at all, the tiny ramen shop, with standing room for about 13 to 15 diners inside at the two counters and five or six outside at a standing counter on the patio, has become the unofficial canteen for Dallas’ hospitality industry. Chefs, bartenders, restaurateurs, food bloggers and Instagramaniacs seem to make up a significant percentage of the noodle-slurpers on any given day.
Maybe that’s because it’s a terrific joint for busy people who love great food: Assuming there’s no line, you’re in and out in about 20 minutes. The small menu that appears on a large blackboard — just three hot ramens, one special, two rice dishes and an appetizer sampler that was added just as we were going to press — is repeated on the touch screens near the door, where you order, customizing the ramens as you wish. To drink there’s water, a few bottled sodas, Asahi Super Dry beer by the glass and one hot sake. That’s it.
When your order’s ready, chef Matt Hoa or sous-chef Christian Koelling will set it on the pass for you. Grab your own chopsticks and lenge (Asian soup spoon), and add any extra condiments you might want — Gaban black pepper, chile oil or a clove of crush-it-yourself garlic.
In the two short months since Ten opened, I’ve already slurped innumerable bowls of its signature tonkotsu ramen — a generous bowl of lively, long, thin, firm noodles in a wonderfully deep-flavored, rich pork-and-chicken broth, milky with emulsified pork fat but never oily, just delicious, decorated with an array of garnishes. Depending on when you go, the broth might taste a little different. The last bowl I communed with — on a Tuesday morning after the broth had enjoyed a particularly long Sunday simmer then a rest (as the place is closed Mondays) — may have been the best, the flavors having melded into deep, soulful sublimity.
Whatever the day, its standard complement of garnishes seems just right: a slice of grilled chashu (pork belly); takana (pickled mustard greens); menma (soy-braised bamboo); a couple of sheets of toasted nori; sliced scallion; fried shallots; and pickled ginger. The proportions are perfect, too — sip a little soup, slurp some noodles, maybe with a bite of some garnish, then repeat and, likely as not, you’ll wind up with a little bit of everything down to the bottom of the bowl.
For a small upcharge, you can add extras, such as an onsen (poached) egg, baby bok choy, spinach or sansai (mountain vegetables, if they’re available — my favorite). So what’s the best garnishing strategy? It really depends on what you like; flavorwise, they all work.
The one through-line that all the dishes have in common is the excellent chashu pork. Flavorful, tender and rich but not overly fatty, it’s slow-braised then finished on the grill.
Ten’s shoyu ramen features a clear broth that’s cleaner and brighter tasting, and includes corn kernels, spinach, menma, sesame seeds, nori and of course chashu among its garnishes. There’s also a soupless ramen called pork mazemen: hot ramen noodles topped with an onsen egg, fried shallots and a lot of chopped, grilled chashu, along with julienned cucumber and sliced scallions that make a cool, fresh contrast with the hot noodles. It all gets nicely saucy from the chopped chashu, which becomes almost like a ragu.
There are the two rice dishes, too, but I don’t quite get the point. Buta soboro, smothered in saucy chopped chashu, is the more interesting (chashu don, sauceless, is just rice topped with a slice of grilled chashu, plus scallions and shallots). They’re both fine as far as they go, but I’d feel deprived to skip ramen in their favor.
Before the summer dish debuted, the special ramen changed weekly. I missed the lobster ramen that half of foodie Dallas was raving about, but I did catch Ten’s gumbo ramen, whose noodles — topped with sliced andouille sausage, fried pork jowl bits, corn and more — swam in a rich, roux- thickened, tomatoey, porky sauce that definitely conjured Louisiana. Tasty, but it didn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. Once summer passes and we’ve gotten our fill of the cold ramen, it’ll be fun to see what kind of specials take its place in the weekly rotation.
The shop isn’t quite what Sakurai had envisioned when he first started talking publicly about his plans to open it — with seats arranged around a toppings bar from which diners help themselves. It’s more pared-down, much like a basic ramen shop you’d find in Tokyo. There’s a relaxed warmth, a come-as-you-are openness, and the rustic simplicity lets the attention to detail — the quality of the garnishes, the beautiful blue, white and brown handmade ceramic bowls, the rich grain of the wooden counter — shine through. It may be just five minutes from downtown, but when you step inside, you feel transported to someplace special, and exactly right.
“I want to teach about the ramen culture,” Sakurai told me in a phone interview just after Ten opened. “It’s very important to me.”
From the looks of the chopsticks-wielding, noodle-slurping folks filling the sweet little place noon and night, it looks like his mission’s already accomplished.
Ten (3 stars)
Price: $-$$ (ramen dishes $10 to $12, plus $2.50 to $3 for extra garnishes; rice dishes $7)
Service: Order near the door using a touch screen, and the chefs will serve you over the counter.
Ambience: A standing-room-only ramen bar, with additional space for a few diners to stand at a counter on the patio
Noise level: Quiet enough to hear your neighbor slurping loudly
Location: 1888 Sylvan Ave., Dallas; https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ten-Ramen/444307449050589
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 10:30 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 to 10:30 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes, including a wheelchair-accessible table
Alcohol: Beer and sake only
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor