Ramen is as complex a study as any art-form in Japanese culture.
Though the popularity of the trendy noodle soup has now reached boiling point, the intricacies of the dish make it a difficult one for any chef to truly master. There are regional variations, different approaches to the broth, myriad ways to prepare the noodles, and additions like grilled meats, eggs and vegetables to wrap your head around. Finding a ramen shop that does it all well, even in Brooklyn, is not easy.
But a collaboration between Brooklyn-born food writer Harris Salat and Japanese-born chef Ryuji Irie has given rise to Ganso, a ramen joint that takes its craft seriously in a space that’s informal, buzzing, and cool on an otherwise sleepy street Downtown.
“I love ramen,” said Salat, “and I’ve been to Japan a million times.”
Salat, who has co-authored three books on Japanese cooking, wanted to bring the delicious and diverse ramen dishes he discovered while traveling and working in Japan home with him. He was tired of only seeing tonkotsu-style ramen — marked by its rich, milky broth — on local menus, and decided to introduce Brooklynites to something new.
“I wanted to focus on a different style of ramen,” said Salat, who opened Ganso late last year. “In Japan there are dozens of ramen. One of my favorites is Tokyo-style ramen, a totally different ramen; a clear ramen with a soy sauce base.”
Though the restaurant nails every component of the dish — the noodles, made in New Jersey and delivered to the restaurant daily are particularly slurpable — it’s the broth at Ganso that really separates it from other ramen-slinging shops around the city.
The menu offers five different ramen options, each with a slightly different base. The Ganso ramen ($13) features the classic soy sauce broth along with succulent braised pork shoulder and belly, boiled egg, and seasonal greens. Richer still is the short-rib ramen ($15), made with a beef-based broth full of the meaty, complex, umami flavors that Salat strives for in his ramen. But best of all is the spicy miso ramen ($14), a kicked-up variation on the Ganso ramen made with chili and miso, which is difficult to put down until every noodle and every last drop of broth has been inhaled.
While ramen is undoubtedly Ganso’s star attraction, the eatery’s other options should not be overlooked. Here, too, Salat and Irie take popular Asian dishes and refocus them with a slightly different preparation than expected. Crispy gyoza ($7), filled with juicy pork and garlic chives, are sticky, juicy dumplings that are wonderful dipped in chili-oil soy sauce. Buta kimchi buns ($9) are Irie’s take on the now super-trendy snack bao, steamed buns which the chef stuffs with a combination of braised pork belly, jalapeno kimchi, crisp slices of cucumber, and spicy mayo, that is at once spicy, fatty, and crunchy.
And expect things to get even more innovative from here. This week, Ganso is launching a new vegetarian dish that fuses traditional Japanese ramen with the Chinese tofu dish mabo dofu.
“It’s so flavorful,” promised Salat. “People dig it. I dig it.”
Ganso [25 Bond St. at Livingston Street in Downtown, (718) 403-0900, www.gansonyc.com] Sun to Thurs, noon–10 pm; Fri and Sat, noon–11 pm.
Will Levitt is a Brooklyn-based food writer. Follow him on Twitter @UnderEggWill.