“When an ex style guru turns chef, one may solely count on skillfully hand-crafted dishes within the type of couture delicacies,” begins the press launch for a brand new Bernal Heights ramen store. “It’s showtime! Delicacies couture, it’s all of the rave!”
The chef in query is Junya Watanabe, a former clothier and the proprietor of RakiRaki Ramen and Tsukemen, a San Diego-based chain of ramen eating places whose two-year-old San Francisco outpost at 3282 Mission Avenue closed earlier this summer time.
After a four-month hiatus, the store will reopen on Friday, November 27, beneath new possession and a barely new title: “RakiRaki by Junya Watanabe.” Amongst different modifications, Watanabe says, the ramen store would be the first within the Bay Space to serve “mochi ramen noodles” — noodles with mochi powder added to the dough to make them extra-chewy.
“It’s the distinction between actual Italian pasta and grocery store pasta — type of like that, solely extra chewy,” Watanabe says.
Does all of that add as much as “couture delicacies”? Because it seems, earlier than Watanabe opened the primary RakiRaki in 2012, he had a 20-year profession as one of many founding companions of Tadashi, a profitable Los Angeles-based style design agency. (He’s to not be confused, nonetheless, with the style world’s best-known Junya Watanabe, the legendary designer of Commes de Garcon fame — “it’s a very frequent title in Japan,” Watanabe says.)
His restaurant is the sort that likes to deal in superlatives. The gyoza aren’t simply any gyoza; they’re “tremendous jumbo gyoza” — very large and very crunchy, Watanabe guarantees, “such as you’ve by no means seen earlier than.” The ramen isn’t simply mochi ramen; it’s “super-thick mochi ramen noodles,” listed in air quotes even within the restaurant’s personal promotional supplies.
After retiring from the world of excessive style within the early 2000s, Watanabe says he spent a number of years touring throughout Japan — by rail, as was his interest — particularly to go to ramen retailers. He’d chat up the homeowners, he says, and ask in the event that they’d agree to show him their secrets and techniques if he signed papers promising by no means to open a store in Japan. Ultimately, he says, a couple of of them agreed. “All of them had a particular approach of constructing it and a few ‘essences’ they use. So what I did was I put all of them collectively — all of their secrets and techniques in my ramen.”
The bottom broth of RakiRaki’s signature ramen is the creamy, pork-intensive tonkotsu type — a wealthy, however clean-tasting, model that takes 11 hours to make, Watanabe says. And he has six completely different tares, or concentrated sauces, that he provides to the soup. Ramen, in some ways, is rather like style, Watanabe says, in its give attention to perfection — on getting each element proper from the “first look,” which within the case of ramen contains the scent and the sight of the steam rising from the bowl.
In Watanabe’s view, it’s in these particulars that the preliminary San Francisco incarnation of RakiRaki fell quick. The chain’s first restaurant exterior of San Diego, the Bernal Heights store opened in 2018 as an independently operated franchise store — one which Watanabe says he by no means had time to actually oversee. And so, it by no means gained a lot traction, and as soon as the pandemic hit, enterprise actually dropped off. The restaurant closed solely in June, at which level Watanabe felt he wanted to do a full reboot and take the reins himself — therefore the “by Junya Watanabe” rebranding.
Watanabe believes the mochi noodles, which he first launched in any respect of his San Diego ramen eating places in August, can be a game-changer. A few years in the past, considered one of his mentors in Tokyo had began including mochi powder to his ramen noodles, the chef explains, attracting traces that stretched across the block. So Watanabe determined to convey that type of ramen to the U.S., including tapioca powder to the recipe as nicely, to create noodles which have a “crisp chewiness” — that retain their al dente chew even after a protracted soak in sizzling soup. “Often after you permit the noodles alone for 10 or quarter-hour within the broth, they only type of die,” Watanabe says.
When it opens subsequent week, the brand new RakiRaki could have an abbreviated menu for takeout solely, together with a couple of completely different ramen choices, and the hardier, chewier mochi noodles will journey particularly nicely, Watanabe says. Ultimately, when indoor eating begins up once more in San Francisco, the restaurant will add among the different ramen kinds it’s recognized for, together with tsukemen.
In the course of the restaurant’s preliminary takeout-oriented part, nonetheless, Watanabe expects that the largest hit gained’t be the ramen in any respect. As an alternative, he expects clients to gravitate towards a brand new $25 bento field that consists of the entire chef’s hottest non-ramen dishes: a minimize sushi roll, rooster karaage, takoyaki, the gyoza, and garlic-ginger marinated edamame. “It’s type of numerous meals to eat until you’re an enormous eater.”