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Akahoshi Ramen (Pop-Up Restaurant)

Akahoshi Ramen (Pop-Up Restaurant)
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  • Akahoshi Ramen (Pop-Up Restaurant)

    Post #1 - March 28th, 2018, 7:12 pm
    Post #1 - March 28th, 2018, 7:12 pm Post #1 - March 28th, 2018, 7:12 pm
    Mike Santinover has made a name for himself in the ramen world despite not having a restaurant or even being a professional cook. After earning loads of ramen street cred on reddit as Ramen_Lord, where he is actively involved in ramen chats and is incredibly generous in sharing his knowledge and recipes, his profile was raised thanks to coverage like this and this.

    For years, the only way to eat his ramen was to snag an invite to his apartment. But in the last month or so, he's hosted a couple small pop-ups at Paulie Gee's in Logan Square, including the one I went to last night. Getting tickets to the pop-ups is hard. If you want to go, pay attention to his Instagram and be online the instant the 60 tickets go on sale. All spots for last night were claimed within 20 seconds.

    So does it live up to the hype? Why yes, it absolutely does. The miso ramen I had last night was just an absolutely spectacular bowl of soup in every way.

    It's hard to accurately describe the broth. It was plenty rich, though not hitting diners over the head with the delicious fattiness of a good tonkotsu. The restrained richness allowed the laundry list of ingredients to shine through. It somehow manages to be porky and vegetable forward simultaneously, all supplemented by a nice underlying punch of umami.

    The noodles* were exceptional. When buying tickets, people had the option of paying $3 for an extra order of noodles. I'm not an idiot so I took advantage of that option. Not only did that mean more stellar noodles but it also meant my entire bowl got a nice temperature boost when I added the piping hot, freshly made order of noodles to the bowl.

    The chashu was a ridiculous melt-in-your-mouth piece of pork. The flavors were incredible but it was also where the lone tiny misstep occurred. The center of our pieces had a slight chill, a problem that was easily rectified by pushing the meat all the way under the broth. I wouldn't even mention it but because everything else was so flawless, it stood out.

    I haven't even gotten to the best part of the soup - the absolutely mind-blowing egg. Okay, maybe it wasn't the best part - that broth is ridiculous - but in terms of expectations, the flavorful and perfectly cooked egg really stood out as something special.

    Given the infrequency of the pop-ups and the challenges of getting a ticket, it might be easier to just make the ramen at home. The recipe for the miso ramen (at least the 2015 version) can be found here. On second thought, that seems like a horrible idea given the amount of work involved. But the recipe is certainly worth a read if only to get a feel for how much goes into what seems to be a relatively simple bowl of soup.

    Hopefully (presumably?), these pop-ups are the start of an exploration of the feasibility of opening a restaurant. If that happens, you're potentially looking at an addition to the Chicago dining scene along the lines of Birrieria Zaragoza and Hot Doug's and pre-expansion Hoosier Mama - an uber-focused restaurant making something that leaves every competitor fighting for honor of being a distant second in town.

    *Edited to correct mistaken statement that the noodles were homemade and then to delete a picture since there are better ones in later comments.
    Last edited by MarlaCollins'Husband on April 28th, 2018, 5:05 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #2 - March 28th, 2018, 7:53 pm
    Post #2 - March 28th, 2018, 7:53 pm Post #2 - March 28th, 2018, 7:53 pm
    Agreed - a superb bowl with such incredible attention to detail. I was at the first pop-up and it reminded me why I fell in love with ramen in the first place. Definitely the best bowl of ramen I've had in this town. But unless things were different at his second pop-up, he was using Sun Noodle's ramen noodles for the pop-ups (but yes, outstanding). And LTH's Behavioral was working with him (which I didn't know at the time).

    Here's a slightly better pic:

    Image
    I find the pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats. (Seinfeld)

    Twitter: brbinchicago
  • Post #3 - March 28th, 2018, 8:37 pm
    Post #3 - March 28th, 2018, 8:37 pm Post #3 - March 28th, 2018, 8:37 pm
    BR wrote:unless things were different at his second pop-up, he was using Sun Noodle's ramen noodles for the pop-ups (but yes, outstanding).

    Ah, I must have misinterpreted our server. Between these and the noodles at High Five Ramen, I'm now extra curious about homemade noodles and how much better they can possibly be.
  • Post #4 - March 30th, 2018, 1:41 pm
    Post #4 - March 30th, 2018, 1:41 pm Post #4 - March 30th, 2018, 1:41 pm
    MarlaCollins'Husband wrote:
    BR wrote:unless things were different at his second pop-up, he was using Sun Noodle's ramen noodles for the pop-ups (but yes, outstanding).

    Ah, I must have misinterpreted our server. Between these and the noodles at High Five Ramen, I'm now extra curious about homemade noodles and how much better they can possibly be.


    Glad you enjoyed your ramen, MarlaCollins'Husband!

    Yup--we still used Sun Noodles (Sapporo-style noodles) that were cut a bit wider than normal for this pop-up.

    RE homemade noodles vs. Sun/other mass-produced noodles: like pasta, there's a lot of homemade ramen noodles that are still inferior to the mass-produced versions. What makes homemade noodles 'better' is your ability to custom produce them to your preferred specs (e.g., hydration, chewiness, thickness, ash content, age, etc.) when you may otherwise not find something off-the-shelf.

    The issue, though, is being able to manufacture a high quantity for professional use (unlike fresh egg pasta, ramen noodles are a lot harder to roll out because they have so little hydration, so you're almost forced to invest in a $10,000+ machine if you're going to be serving more than a dozen bowls a night).

    Here's a post by Mike on Reddit about making your own vs. buying Sun Noodles as a home cook:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/ramen/comments ... n/coo8fwr/

    I'll see if I can coax Mike to create an LTH account so he can answer questions directly.
  • Post #5 - March 31st, 2018, 1:43 pm
    Post #5 - March 31st, 2018, 1:43 pm Post #5 - March 31st, 2018, 1:43 pm
    MarlaCollins'Husband wrote:
    BR wrote:unless things were different at his second pop-up, he was using Sun Noodle's ramen noodles for the pop-ups (but yes, outstanding).

    Ah, I must have misinterpreted our server. Between these and the noodles at High Five Ramen, I'm now extra curious about homemade noodles and how much better they can possibly be.


    I haven't tried Sun's noodles (or Mike's ramen). All I can say is that I am often disappointed with the noodles I have had in restaurant ramen around here.

    I tag-teamed with turkob to make ramen a few years back. More accurately, I made the noodles and he did all the heavy lifting.

    We both agreed that having a chewy, homemade noodle elevated the bowl. If you are thinking about trying it out, it was definitely doable (I used the Serious Eats recipe) - and a much easier task than the rest of the ramen undertaking.
  • Post #6 - April 2nd, 2018, 5:18 pm
    Post #6 - April 2nd, 2018, 5:18 pm Post #6 - April 2nd, 2018, 5:18 pm
    MarlaCollins'Husband wrote:
    BR wrote:unless things were different at his second pop-up, he was using Sun Noodle's ramen noodles for the pop-ups (but yes, outstanding).

    Ah, I must have misinterpreted our server. Between these and the noodles at High Five Ramen, I'm now extra curious about homemade noodles and how much better they can possibly be.


    I'm here! Shoutouts to Behavioral for the rec on this. Still learning the ropes here, bear with me. (Proof that this is Mike, and not some bizarre impostor is here on my twitter: https://twitter.com/msatinover/status/980923297050300422)

    Awesome review by the way, and I'm really glad you liked things.

    Some interesting comments in this thread that I'll try to address:

    1. We definitely use Sun Noodle. I'm friends with Kenshiro Uki, the VP of operations and son of the founder/owner of Sun noodle, so I get the hook up from their New Jersey Factory. They shipped a Yebisu 18 noodle my way. This is a vegan noodle distinct for its translucent appearance, bright yellow color, dense chewiness, and curl. The number 18 denotes how thick the noodle is by telling you how many noodles you'll get with a 30mm wide sheet of dough. In this case, 18 noodles are cut per 30 mm width of dough. For comparison, a standard ramen noodle is cut on a 20 (or is 1.5 mm in width). So it's a weeeeee bit thicker.

    2. I prep everything. Tare, soup, toppings, aroma oils, everything is made as from scratch. This on its own takes several days. To add noodles to this would increase my prep time considerably; easy another 4-8 hours of work. A professional machine can roll and cut 100 portions in an hour. With my dinky pasta machine, I'm lucky if I can do 15. And, as lovely as Paulie Gee's is, they don't have a professional ramen machine.

    3. I would argue that, 99% of the time, professional noodles are superior in quality to ones we can make, for a handful of reasons. Primarily, ramen noodles often require incredible force to push the dough together, something that even most smaller or localized machines (like the legendary Yamato machines) can't output. Professional manufacturers also have access to more types of flour than restaurants because they buy in such bulk, giving them flexibility in the noodle making process, and more precision in gluten or ash content of the dough. Finally, there's the hygiene aspect. The Yebisu noodles, as an example, are aged at 65 F after being cut for 2-3 days before being shipped, a common approach in Sapporo noodle making which is critical to the final product. This aging process helps fully hydrate the starches in the flour, allows for residual trapped gas in the dough to escape via capillary action, and results in a more translucent, dense noodle. Sun Noodle can guarantee appropriate humidity and temperature control in their facility, making sure the noodles are safe for consumption. I can't. I could make a safer noodle, but it won't have the effect I'm looking for.

    4. I'm always looking for feedback. You mentioned the chashu was cold in the center. We'll work on that. Maybe we can find a way to better heat the slices; we've been torching them, but that's mostly a surface treatment for flavor, it doesn't do a great job of reheating the meat. We have a great reheating approach for the eggs, so I'm glad you like them (basically we pour hot brine over them before the turn happens, which lets them reach an equilibrium temp of around 140 F). Maybe we can apply this learning to the chashu.
  • Post #7 - April 2nd, 2018, 9:45 pm
    Post #7 - April 2nd, 2018, 9:45 pm Post #7 - April 2nd, 2018, 9:45 pm
    On the plus side, I had the chashu at the first pop-up and it was gorgeous and the perfect temperature - and not only incredibly tender but the torching elevated the chashu above most others. Keep up the great work!
    I find the pastrami to be the most sensual of all the salted, cured meats. (Seinfeld)

    Twitter: brbinchicago
  • Post #8 - April 3rd, 2018, 10:16 am
    Post #8 - April 3rd, 2018, 10:16 am Post #8 - April 3rd, 2018, 10:16 am
    Forgot to post my bowl from the end of the meal from pop-up #2:

    IMG_7301.jpg Akahoshi Miso Ramen
  • Post #9 - April 3rd, 2018, 10:43 am
    Post #9 - April 3rd, 2018, 10:43 am Post #9 - April 3rd, 2018, 10:43 am
    Ramen_Lord - welcome! Thanks for the detailed first post. I learned a lot.

    Behavioral - great photo -- looks delicious!!
    -Mary
  • Post #10 - April 4th, 2018, 10:04 am
    Post #10 - April 4th, 2018, 10:04 am Post #10 - April 4th, 2018, 10:04 am
    Mike has already responded, but as one of the few folks that had the opportunity to try not only his homemade noodles as well as the Sun noodles he's serving at my restaurant side by side, I wanted to chime in.

    Mike's home made noodles are superior. From what I remember a few months back, there was a distinct chew/texture that he had accomplished with his noodles I tried that is better than the Sun noodles he used. Mind you, the Sun noodles aren't missing the preferred chew/texture, but Mike's just had a more pronounced form of it.

    That being said, if I didn't have them side by side, I would be hard pressed to notice the difference. (I'm also a ramen enthusiast, not an otaku/obsessive like Mike and some others on this forum). The Sun noodles are phenomenal, especially since RamenLord and Behavioral and my staff have worked it out so that there is as little lag time as possible between the moment the noodles come out of the boiling water to the moment it gets to you. Mike's are just a small step above the Sun. I do keep telling him that he should consider getting a ramen machine, but as he noted from a quality/safety standpoint (as well as the cost), for now the Sun noodles just makes more sense.

    Just my two cents. And thanks for coming to the pop up and supporting Mike! The ramen he's putting out is some of the best I've had, which is why I enjoy providing a venue for him to share his craft!
  • Post #11 - April 27th, 2018, 10:57 am
    Post #11 - April 27th, 2018, 10:57 am Post #11 - April 27th, 2018, 10:57 am
    Hey everyone,

    Just because a few people have asked me when the next pop-ups are, they'll be Tuesdays, 5/15 and 5/29, at Paulie Gee's Logan Square!

    If you want to attend either date, tickets to both pop-ups will go on sale this upcoming Tuesday (5/1) at 12p. There will be 60 seatings on each day and tickets can be purchased at the following Tock site:

    https://www.exploretock.com/akahoshiramen/

    Like before, tickets will be $20 per person (1 bowl/person). Drinks and kaedama (second full serving of noodles) are extra.

    Note for these next two pop-ups (in case you've attended before): we will be serving a spicy tantanmen (ramen version of the Chinese 'dan dan' noodles) in place of the lemon pepper shio ramen.

    Finally, if you do want to attend, be ready at least a few minutes before noon on Tuesday. The first two events have sold out in under 20 seconds each. Because we're releasing twice the amount of tickets, you'll likely get more time to buy, but potentially not much more.

    Given this is LTH, see if you can coordinate amongst yourselves to see if you/a friend can snag tickets (in case 1 person can add them to their cart and the other can't). Alternatively, I don't think you'll have much trouble filling an extra seat or two in case you decide to buy more tickets than you need immediately (you can probably post in this thread to solicit a dining companion).

    Anyway, let me or Ramen_Lord know if you have any questions!

    We're both also reachable/more responsive via Instagram if you prefer talking to us that way.

    Mike: https://www.instagram.com/ramenover/
    Me: https://www.instagram.com/kennyoyama/

    Hope to see some of you there!
  • Post #12 - May 1st, 2018, 12:06 pm
    Post #12 - May 1st, 2018, 12:06 pm Post #12 - May 1st, 2018, 12:06 pm
    Tried getting 3 tixs this morning. Was literally refreshing for 15 minutes prior. When tixs became available, still couldn't secure them, even though already online. Getting tixs online anymore is so frustrating. Miss the days of waiting in line. At least you stood a chance if you got there early.
  • Post #13 - May 1st, 2018, 12:15 pm
    Post #13 - May 1st, 2018, 12:15 pm Post #13 - May 1st, 2018, 12:15 pm
    I was able to get a table for 2 on the 15th without any drama, kept refreshing for ~10 seconds leading up to noon.
  • Post #14 - May 1st, 2018, 12:21 pm
    Post #14 - May 1st, 2018, 12:21 pm Post #14 - May 1st, 2018, 12:21 pm
    If anyone ultimately can't use 3 tickets, please let me know. Or 2 tickets even (my wife will understand!).

    Thanks!
  • Post #15 - May 1st, 2018, 12:42 pm
    Post #15 - May 1st, 2018, 12:42 pm Post #15 - May 1st, 2018, 12:42 pm
    I grabbed four for the 29th - even with a very fast connection I still missed out on the 7p slot (clicked it but none were left) and luckily the 5:45p still had availability. Went through all the prompts quickly without issue. Looking forward to it!
  • Post #16 - May 7th, 2018, 12:12 pm
    Post #16 - May 7th, 2018, 12:12 pm Post #16 - May 7th, 2018, 12:12 pm
    Hey everyone,

    So... tickets sold out crazy quickly! I was shocked. Frankly, I'm always shocked when they sell out, but I thought doubling the number of tickets available would help people get them. That was the goal; add twice as many tickets with the same restrictions, would grant more opportunities for new guests to try the ramen.

    Clearly that did not help; all slots were locked down after only a few seconds, and then purchased within a minute or so. Ramen lovers are wild in Chicago.

    Admittedly, this is not the worst problem for a business to have, but I also don't like hearing how folks have tried 3 times to get tickets and still haven't gotten a chance. I want to share ramen with as many people as I can, after all.

    I don't know how to help these guests, but I'm open to ideas. I don't think I can give everyone special access; even if I prioritized the wait-list, some people on that list wouldn't be able to purchase. So, for now, a publicly announced release seems to be the most egalitarian option.

    On the plus side, I'm planning at least one more popup next month. Details are really limited now obviously; I do these popups sort of ad-hoc depending on my work schedule, but if you're feeling discouraged, fret not. At least one more is on the horizon.
  • Post #17 - May 15th, 2018, 10:36 am
    Post #17 - May 15th, 2018, 10:36 am Post #17 - May 15th, 2018, 10:36 am
    The first of two pop-ups this month is tonight!

    Hope to see some of you guys there! Feel free to mention your LTH names to us if you see us in the dining area--would love to finally attach some faces to names!

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