Those who have roamed Stamford for years in search of authentic ramen finally have a new spring to their step. Kyushu Ramen, the sleek re-incarnation of Tengda Asian Bistro on Bedford’s Restaurant Row, lays claim to being Stamford’s first ramen restaurant.
In place of the mish-mash Pan Asian cuisine previously served at this location, the new shop focuses primarily on Japan, sharpening the lens on the island of Kyushu and its most illustrious contribution to ramen cuisine, Tonkotsu.
Distinguished by its cloudy, slowly simmered pork stock, Tonkatsu is the silky star of Kyushu’s menu. Its savory, seasoned broth, anointed with pork belly, spices, herbs and noodles, is crafted by Japanese-born chef, Ito Shigeru. Trained by strict ramen masters, this veteran New York City ramen chef brings an authentic Japanese cooking style to Bedford Street.
Shigeru conjures four versions of Tonkatsu for his guests: Shio (salt), Shoyu (soy), Miso (fermented bean paste), and Spicy Miso.
All the Tonkatsus feature the distinctive pork broth and braised pork belly (chashu), but they each contain different algorithms of bamboo shoot, mustard leaf, soy sauce egg, scallion, and sesame seed. The Shio and Shoyu ramens include kikurage, the cloud ear mushroom revered for its medicinal and nutritional powers.
While the Spicy Miso delivered the biggest kick, we thought the more muted Miso was the standout. In addition to the chashu, the creamy broth was studded with ground pork, onion and buttery corn, which deepened the complexity of the dish. Shigeru’s wheat noodles, bathed in the sheen of the soup, were toothsome and springy, not in any way soggy.
Yep, they sucked. In a good way. As fine ramen noodles should.
My only quibble is that ramen is best devoured in the cold gloom of winter. I’m thinking frosted windows, frozen extremities, and a steaming bowl full of goodies that warms, sooths, and resurrects. Like a hug from mom when you come in from sledding.
However, I slurped this ramen on a sun-splashed spring day, a nice no-hugs-needed afternoon. Still, the bowl was flavorful and robust, delivering a comfort-ridden umami bomb.
Kyushu’s menu also features three different flavored ramens made with chicken stock (more clear than the Tonkatsu broth). Customers can choose one of 3 proteins: braised chicken, braised pork or seafood.
An inventive vegetable based ramen is also available, brandished with miso flavor, spinach noodles, shiitake mushrooms, edible kelp, tofu “chashu,” onion, bean sprout and chive.
Extra toppings are available. Of course, the restaurant observes kae-dama, the traditional extra serving of noodles upon request. But reserve enough broth for the second helping.
Though we came for the ramen, other items on the menu tempted, and we succumbed.
At lunch one day, we couldn’t resist the Bao (Bun). Kyushu treats their Steamed Bao as a sandwich bun, not a dim sum dumpling, and serves two on a plate. Fluffy as a cloud, the gravity-defying bun embraced a thick hunk of barbequed pork belly bathed in hoisin, and seated atop a cucumber and Japanese pickle. Though the server brought over a knife and fork, we decided to treat the sandwiches as street food and used our hands to eat them.
Surprisingly the ethereal bun stood up to the hunk of pork belly, though the fragrant hoison glaze overwhelmed the taste of the bun (and ran down our fingers). However, the textures played off each other perfectly. The soft, gossamer bun, thick chewy pork, crisp cucumber and crunchy pickle produced the varied mouth feel and sound track that makes for a great sandwich experience. This one was top notch. But not using utensils meant too many napkins. Next time we’ll opt for the knife and fork.
Out of curiosity, we also sampled a boat of Tako Yaki, octopus meatballs, a dish that is a favorite in Osaka. Once again Chef Sigeru displayed his gifted command of textures. Sprinkled with dried bonito flakes, the grilled meatballs are battered, containing diced octopus, the chewy bits dressed in creamy mayonnaise. Lighter than western style meatballs, Tako Yaki is regarded in Japan as a savory street snack.
At Kyushu, it makes for a tasty small plate, which can be combined with others for a delicious and unique tapas party. Also recommended: Okonomi Yaki, a Japanese dinner pancake blended with shrimp, calamari, egg, mayo and a secret sauce.
At times I had a minor problem communicating to the staff, but otherwise the service was acceptable if not attentive.
Before you go, note that Kyushu is BYOB.
A final observation. Stamford is the state’s second largest city, known for its diverse global cuisines, from Argentina to Peru to Ethiopia to Australia to Indochina to Korea. Why an authentic ramen restaurant, so common in most of the country, has been this late in coming to an ethnic epicenter remains a puzzlement.
235 Bedford St. Stamford, CT (203) 614-8689