Slurping encouraged at new noodle joint

January 13, 2012 8:36:17 PM PST
Ramen noodles are one of many survival tactics for hungry college students. But they also form the basis of one of Japan's favorite meals. They play a starring role on the menu at one of the city's hottest new restaurants.

Over the last few years, Takashi Yagihashi has made a name for himself with his noodle dishes. First with his kiosk on the 7th floor of Macy's in the Loop. Then, as a Sunday-only option at his more upscale, namesake restaurant in Bucktown. But for his latest project, The Slurping Turtle - housed in a glass-fronted modern space on Hubbard - Yagihashi is expanding on that Sunday menu by offering a series of Japanese small plates.

"I find out myself, I love doing it. I enjoy it every Sunday, so that's why I thought, maybe how about everyday?" he said.

There is obviously an assortment of sushi on his menu, but the more interesting creations are buried among the snacks and grilled items. Check out the pork belly snack - something he's been offering at his other restaurants for years - which features beautifully-rich, thick-cut bacon, brushed with a sweet glaze, then stacked on puffy-soft Chinese gua bao buns, along with tart pickles and radishes, plus spicy mustard for optional heat.

One of the biggest additions to his repertoire is the grill, featuring Japanese binchotan charcoal, which burns much hotter than briquets or hardwood; perfect for blistering chicken thighs or steak, while keeping the interiors moist and meaty. The range of grilled items is impressive, including veggies and even mild shishito peppers.

But with a verb like "slurp" in your title, you better be able to make good soup.

"I slurp everything except miso soup," said Yagihashi. "Noodle we have here is like what you can eat in downtown Tokyo."

The noodles are made by a company using Yagihashi's recipe; some are mild, others, like the tan tan men, have a kick to them. Porky meatballs and fiery broth are combined with crushed sesame seeds and garnished with par-boiled bean sprouts, bok choy and peapods. Chili oil, sesame and thin chili strands serve as garnish.

"I don't want to go too hot, but nice kick in your mouth," he said.

Cool off with a sweetened coconut milk shooter, infused with lemongrass and a quail egg.. or a creamy-rich green tea cream puff. Yagihashi says it's this kind of eating he remembers fondly from back home.

"In Japan, lots of office people, before going home, you want to stop by somewhere to get couple of drinks with something grilled. So I love the idea and I grown up with it," said Yagihashi.

The restaurant is also open for lunch, and has an impressive list of imported sakes available from Japan.

Slurping Turtle
116 W. Hubbard St.