Ramen wave comes to Chicago with Ramen-san, High Five Ramen

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Like the barbecue and fried chicken waves before it, Chicago is now having a ramen moment.

Ramen fans have been packing into River North's Ramen-san the past few weeks - and at 90 seats, it's a behemoth by traditional standards. They offer three types of ramen here, but they're most proud of the tonkotsu, which is made by boiling pork bones for hours.

"The best thing I learned is everything opposite of what I used to do. So we'd start off with a French stock and it would be nice, simmering, something like that; the tonkotsu, you're boiling it the whole time to get all the fat and everything to emulsify," said Doug Psaltis, the chef at Ramen-san. "That's the heart and soul."

Psaltis first adds a scoop of miso, then the broth and a tangle of boiled noodles imported from New York. Crunchy bamboo, soft seaweed and a soft-boiled egg are typical; chashu pork amplifies the pork broth, and garnishes include scallions and pickled ginger. There's also a deep, dark shiitake mushroom version for vegetarians, arriving with cubes of firm tofu.

Two types of pork bones and two different chicken bones get boiled for 18 hours at High Five Ramen, tucked into the corner of Green Street Smoked Meats. It feels more like Tokyo with just 16 seats, but beware of the namesake bowl - it's spicy. Dried ichimi pepper and ground sancho berries form a tongue-numbing base.

"It's really floral, it's really citrusy, so it's a really complex kind of flavor element to add to the bowl," said Jeff Pikus, the chef at High Five.

The rich broth is heated in a wok with bean sprouts and scallions. Added to the base, in goes noodles brought in from the same supplier Ramen-san uses, then thick, juicy slabs of pork, a beautifully poached egg, sprouts, scallions and black garlic oil. Pikus adds more chili oil, then garnishes with a haystack of Japanese leeks and even more chili flakes. Despite all that, he says the key is the broth.

"It just extracts everything, everything in the bones just comes out into the broth and you end up with this really kind of intense, rich, powerful base," Pikus said.

Two things to remember when you come to High Five: there are only 16 seats, so you might end up waiting for a bit and put your name on a list; and if you get the namesake ramen, remember, it's pretty spicy. You're probably not going to need a jar of chili oil, that is, unless you're a glutton for punishment.

If there is a wait for a seat at High Five, which is very likely, you can always hang out in the adjacent Green Street Smoked Meats until your name is called.

Ramen-san
59 W. Hubbard St.
312-377-9950

High Five Ramen
112 N. Green St.
(312) 754-0431
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