CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Japanese bowl of ramen is getting a few new looks in Chicago, thanks to some chefs willing to experiment. While most bowls feature the cloudy, pork-based "tonkotsu" broth, a pair of newcomers is offering diners a wider range of options.
This just might be called a second wave of ramen in Chicago. The porky, cloudy bowls of tonkotsu have been the stars up until now, but with these two new options, you can indulge in tongue-numbing spices; mellow, gentler bowls filled with poached chicken, or even a broth-less bowl of noodles you have to dip in order to enjoy.
The enthusiasm at the L-shaped counter is contagious. People dutifully slurping, lifting their wide, flat noodles from bowl to broth, dipping as they go. At Chicago Ramen, ironically located in a Des Plaines strip mall just north of O'Hare, the specialty is tsukemen.
At Chicago Ramen, you're presented with two bowls. One contains the well-regarded Sun Noodles, imported daily, simply boiled and placed into a bowl with lime, a large slice of roasted pork and dried seaweed. Be sure to squeeze that lime over them first!
Then there's broth, amped-up with pork fat, a mound of bean sprouts and scallions. This bowl is finished with some crunchy bamboo and sweet white onions. Your job is to dip those noodles into the broth, slurp and repeat. After you finish your noodles, ask the chef to add some hot water to you bowl so you can have a little soup afterward.
In Lincoln Square, the folks behind Wasabi have recently opened Menya Goku along Montrose Avenue. They take a more modern approach.
"Tantanmen is our signature dish, it has 48 hours tonkotsu broth, so it has a thicker broth and it has really, really spicy. Topped with miso-flavored Berkshire ground pork, bok choy, menma - which is bamboo shoot - then green onion and then little bit of sesame seeds on top," said owner Satoko Takeyama.
They also have a "modern shoyu" with nearly zero chili heat. The broth is luxurious. The egg is cooked perfectly, just barely set, and the addition of sous vide-cooked chicken and pork add silky softness, since both are cooked at even temp in a water bath.
"So Modern Shoyu we use cage-free chicken bones stock together with dashi. It is a little modern because we don't really use traditional char siu pork, we use slow-cooked sous vide pork - it's really flavorful, it's really almost like melt-in-your-mouth," she said.
Menya Goku re-opens Friday, while Chicago Ramen re-opens on Monday with 25% capacity, but it is a sign in the right direction.
578 E. Oakton St., Des Plaines
2207 W. Montrose Ave.