Veggie shoyu ramen with fried tofu skins at Ichigoh Ramen Lounge, a new Dallas restaurant operating as a popup in the Tanoshii ramen space

Veggie shoyu ramen with fried tofu skins at Ichigoh Ramen Lounge, a new Dallas restaurant operating as a popup in the Tanoshii ramen space

Daniel Carde/Staff Photographer

If you've casually wandered into Tanoshii, the ramen shop in Deep Ellum, you might not have noticed a thing. The sign is the same, the dining room still has a big mural of the Chinese monkey king painted on a brick wall, the menu is still mostly ramen.

But a few weeks ago, it was sold and an entirely new restaurant opened up in the space, completely under the radar. It is the first iteration of Ichigoh Ramen Lounge, the creation of two veterans of Ippudo ramen in New York City. They are slowly developing their new menu before closing Tanoshii next year, remodeling and reopening as Ichigoh proper.

Ramen and beyond: Dipping into the new Ichigoh menu

"We weren't able to get a commitment from our contractor this year, so we decided to make it into a pop-up," says George Itoh, who co-owns Ichigoh with the chef, Andy Tam. "We're using Tanoshii as a shell space as we change the menu to our style of ramen."

Naturally, that begins with the noodles. They are importing all their noodles from Sapporo, Japan, and Tam is aging them for about a week after they arrive to develop a denser, springier texture and a slightly more translucent appearance. For now, Tam is using the thicker gotsu noodles, which are traditionally for richer dishes such as miso ramen. When Ichigoh reopens next year, he will also use the thinner noren for lighter broths.

Those antique cedar boxes stacked on the counter are for aging noodles, and they are the only change you will spot in the dining room, though Itoh is eager to sandblast that mural. "Every time Japanese customers come in, they start laughing," he says of the Chinese artwork. "The sooner the better!"

George Itoh, left, and chef Andy Tam are opening Ichigoh Ramen Lounge in Deep Ellum. The antique cedar boxes are used to age ramen noodles.

George Itoh, left, and chef Andy Tam are opening Ichigoh Ramen Lounge in Deep Ellum. The antique cedar boxes are used to age ramen noodles.

Daniel Carde/Staff Photographer

The current menu features four versions of ramen: two made with clear chicken broth, plus one with a vegetable broth and another with a rich tonkotsu broth. The plan is to emphasize the cleaner-flavored chicken and vegetable broths, and eventually drop the tonkotsu in favor of a miso broth. In keeping with authenticity, Itoh discourages customers from adding more than a single topping to any bowl.

Each week, additional dishes and imported ingredients are added to the menu, including appetizers such as spicy maguro tofu, with fresh creamy blocks of tofu topped with diced raw tuna; tako wasabi, with Japanese octopus marinated in green wasabi; and kisetsu no kinoko butter, featuring seasonal kinoko mushrooms. To drink, there are craft cocktails, sake and beer.

Spicy maguro tofu

Spicy maguro tofu

Daniel Carde/Staff Photographer

Itoh is also training the staff members, who were all carried over from Tanoshii, in Japanese-style hospitality, even teaching them numbers, greetings and other words in Japanese, so that all of the communication with the kitchen is in that language.

"It's not quick, diner-type service but service that focuses on each individual bowl," Itoh says. "Each bowl is carried with two hands and presented to the customer, set down in the right direction, and details of what's in it and how it's eaten are explained. We want to bring the culture of Japan to Dallas, as well as the food."

It's an approach he and Tam originally learned at Ippudo. The Japanese chain of ramen shops opened its first location outside of the country 10 years ago in New York City; it was a sensation, earning lines out the door and a starred review from The New York Times. Itoh was a manager, while Tam worked his way up from line cook to executive chef at a second New York location.

The two left Ippudo in 2016, after the company went public, and began researching cities across the country where they might open their own shop. They wanted a place that wasn't swimming in ramen, with relatively affordable real estate and labor costs and an appreciative audience. They found that in Dallas plus a location in Deep Ellum that reminded them both of home, Brooklyn.

They moved in 2017, and have been making ramen at events under the Ichigoh banner as they landed a space and began to build what they hope will be a group of several ramen houses in the D-FW area, each specializing in a different style. "We've had this vision for a long time," Itoh says, "even the name of our future restaurant."

It is derived from a phrase attributed to Sen no Rikyū, a 16th-century Buddhist and creator of the green tea ceremony. "Ichi-go ichi-e, it means one moment, one opportunity," Itoh says. "That is our mission for the restaurant. Every time you approach a customer, make sure it's the most memorable moment they can spend with us here."

Ichigoh is inside Tanoshii at 2724 Commerce St., Dallas. ichigohramen.com

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