When Yuji Haraguchi first started serving his wildly creative ramen omakase at the Whole Foods Bowery back in March, it was supposed to be a two-month stint. Fast-forward to present, and Haraguchi is still going strong in the same tiny kitchen, serving a constantly-changing seven-course, seafood-centric tasting menu to a lucky handful of diners (six, to be exact) five nights a week.
Haraguchi and his sous chef, Tara Norvell, who met in the kitchen at Roberta's, take a decidedly unconventional approach to ramen, using alkalized dough (thus technically "ramen") in unheard of new ways: as the base fried crackers that will be topped with Long Island-caught bonito tartare, or cut into uneven triangles inspired by the Italian pasta maltagliati ("badly cut") and curled around conch liver puree and confited conch slices.
Some of the dishes take ramen conceptually rather than literally, like the sushi-grade squid that's sliced into strands resembling noodles and served as sashimi. It's appropriate for a man who made his mark by introducing most New Yorkers to mazemen, a broth-free ramen variant that's become increasingly popular since Yuji debuted at Kinfolk studios in the spring of 2012 (and Smorgasburg shortly thereafter).
Their guiding principal in the kitchen is "no waste"—the broths for Yuji's ramen are made from a collection of the butcher counter's leftovers ("it's more bones than water," says Haraguchi), and Haraguchi and Norvell have a habit of grinding the dregs of any leftovers (crab shells, shards of kombu, fish scales) into powders that they deploy strategically as seasonings and garnishes.
They don't like to write down menus because the daily omakase offerings change so frequently, often dictated by the seafood that Haraguchi, a former fish salesman for True World Foods, gets his hands on from his network of mostly local fishers. "The seafood comes first, then we build the ramen around what works best with the fish," Haraguchi explains.
Unlike many traditional ramenya, Haraguchi's shoebox-sized, totally open kitchen is not a particularly loud nor frenetic place. Haraguchi and Norvell work cheerfully and meticulously, measuring every ingredient closely and serving their creations directly to the customer over the countertop. "We get a lot of direct feedback," says Norvell, "and the menu is constantly evolving."
Here's a look at what goes on behind the scenes »
About the author: Jamie Feldmar is a noodle aficionado, barbecue lover, and the managing editor of Serious Eats. You can follow her on Twitter at @jfeldmar.