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Food Review: Shoryuken Ramen lives up to its promise as a stand-alone.

click to enlarge Chef Will Richardson offers Shoryuken classic ramen with salt, fresh corn and pork belly, left, and tonkotsu ramen shro at his restaurant’s permanent spot.

Scott Elmquist

Chef Will Richardson offers Shoryuken classic ramen with salt, fresh corn and pork belly, left, and tonkotsu ramen shro at his restaurant’s permanent spot.

Remember when Shoryuken Ramen was a pop-up at Lunch on Monday and Tuesday evenings? You could practically bet the farm that every seat would be taken within minutes of opening, and that the night’s ramen special would be sold out by 7:30.

Chef and owner Will Richardson undoubtedly recalls those days. A few months ago, the website Urbanful listed Shoryuken as one of six restaurant pop-ups to catch while you can.

And do you remember how he floated the idea of a brick-and-mortar location near Main and Harrison streets — also known as VCU central — to the pop-up’s devoted following? The resounding response was, “Hell, no, we won’t go.”

Instead, Shoryuken landed at another place squarely in the heart of Virginia Commonwealth University — the space that formerly housed Dash Kitchen and Carry — but with one new bragging right. It now has a public parking lot attached.

After Dash’s clean-lined renovation, not much needed to change interior-wise, beyond hanging Japanese prints above the bar and a copy of the iconic Hokusai woodblock print, “The Wave,” over the steps. Among the concerns the Shoryuken team voiced before the move was whether Richmond was ready — for not only ramen six days a week, but also hot soup during the heat of a Southern summer. Both matters are addressed with a larger menu including cold noodle specials for cooler eating.

Leave your preconceived notions of Asian food outside. Several appetizers walk the line between a concession to those less noodle-focused and innovative additions to the former three-item pop-up menu of ramen, ramen and ramen.

Our table makes short work of fried green tomatoes ($5) drizzled with Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise, known for its consummate hit of umami. Katsu sliders ($6) of fried pork, house pickles and more of that rich, slightly sweet mayo tucked inside a Hawaiian roll, provide similar flavor fireworks in a hand-held version. Yes, gasp, bread at an Asian joint.

Don’t miss stuff on sticks, which is how the menu labels the daily kushiyaki ($5), a sure-fire way to see what the kitchen’s been up to. On one visit, it’s Chinese sausage, lepcheung, a tantalizing mixture of beef and pork with a sweetness that hints at molasses.

One slurp of the beautifully balanced winner that is Shoryuken classic ramen ($10) — available flavored with sea salt, soy sauce or spicy garlic oil — is enough to seduce the entire table. Deeply flavored broth, long-braised chashu pork (marinated pork belly), a seasoned ajitama egg (a marinated, soft-boiled egg), bamboo shoots, scallions and nori make to a bowl layered with personality. Vegetarians will find the egg and pork replaced by pickled mushrooms, but the overall effect is no less dazzling. Pro tip: For a burst of summer in your mouth, gild the lily by adding fresh corn for 50 cents.

A dinner companion nursing a summer cold is suitably impressed with the milky pork bone broth of tonkotsu ($10), declaring it, “Just what a Jewish mother would have me eating.” My chashu rice bowl ($10) delivers all the ingredients of the classic ramen — minus noodles and broth — over rice, with a generous sprinkle of house furikake, a Japanese seasoning commonly made with bonito and seaweed flakes, sesame seeds, sugar and salt.

Keep an eye on the specials board where, through the course of three visits, we make short work of hiyashi chukka ($10), cold noodles with chicken, mushrooms and scallions, and deviled eggs ($5) with the one-two punch of creamy Thai sweet chilies. Like the collard greens and fried pork cutlet in the katsu rice bowl ($10), Shoryuken pays homage here to both its Asian and Southern roots.

The bar makes you happy to arrive thirsty, with a list crafted by cocktail ninja Sean Rapoza, the mixologist who made Balliceaux a cocktail destination before Richmond knew it needed one. Go for the win with Sheng Long’s defeat ($8), guaranteed to cool down a hot summer night with Hendrick’s gin, housemade matcha cordial, house sake and coconut cream. Wine choices are limited to three, while beers include Japan’s top lager, Ichiban, and the usual Virginia suspects.

Chances are your server will be young, knowledgeable and around when you have a question or need something. Richmond’s little pop-up that could is ably proving itself six days a week. The koi beside the door is a traditional good luck symbol meant to stimulate wealth. Shoryuken is well on its way, serving bowl after bowl of good eating. S

Shoryuken Ramen
900 W. Franklin St.
855-4246
Mondays-Thursdays 5-11 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays 5 p.m.-midnight
shoryukenramen.com

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