Ramen by the Bowl
Stock pots are simmering at a certain pie-shaped wedge of Gert Town real estate. Here you will find Kin, where chef and owner Hieu Than obsesses over the minutiae of his carefully composed ramen bowls. The space is tiny with a kitchen that offers little more than 150 square feet of workspace. But what is sent out of this diminutive production area is remarkable enough for Than to garner, as of press time, a nomination for a 2018 James Beard award.
Kin wasn’t always a ramen shop. When it opened back in 2015, it was more of a quirky boîte that offered a cerebral approach to fine dining. Yet noodles were always part of the plan. “In the back of my head I always wanted to do ramen,” Than says. “I just didn’t think the city was really ready for it. I also wanted to build a customer base before making the switch. I just didn’t think I’d get people in here to this no-name place run by a no-name guy to eat ramen out the gate.”
Than is modest – his resume includes time spent at New York’s Corton with Paul Liebrandt as well as with Gautreau’s here in New Orleans – and he brings a precision and care for ingredients that reflect this. His menu is short but focused. Think of his ramen bowls as inverted fine dining, basically a layering of individually-prepared components nested within a single bowl, rather than spread out across a series of plates.
The Pork Tonkotsu, described by Tran as his “benchmark bowl,” is a case in point. The base is the broth, an emulsified pork stock that simmers overnight. Whereas most places roll and braise pork belly for the protein component, here Hieu takes a multi-stage, fine dining approach. The pork bellies are first cured with coriander, fennel, salt and clove then pressure cooked the following day. “The pressure cooker concentrates the flavor,” Hieu says. “This dish is intensely porky.” The belly is removed and portioned, and the leftover sauce is reduced to a glaze with spices, aromatics and rendered bacon. For pickup, the belly is finished à la minute with this glaze and some roasted garlic and onion. First into the bowl goes the broth, then the pork and braised greens, soy and mirin-and-soy marinated egg, and the Brussels sprouts. Last in are the noodles, which are made from scratch and take just 10 seconds to cook.
My favorite is the Huxta Bowl, which was inspired by Than’s trip to the famed Ivan Ramen in New York. This dish is lighter as its broth is a blend of the pork and chicken stocks and it picks up both umami and sweetness from miso paste blended with the milk from fresh corn cobs. The pork shoulder is seasoned overnight then ground and browned with onions, lemongrass and black pepper. The artful savory crumbles go into the broth along with fresh corn and blanched bok choy.
Kin’s ramen is filling, but if you feel up for it try the dumplings. The compositions rotate but recently included a crab-boil inspired Cajun Hotbox. Seating is limited, with a communal 10-top and a pair of bars – one L-shaped around the counter and the other fronting a window, so arriving early is best. Drinks are BYOB with no corkage fee.
MEET THE CHEF
James Beard Nominee
Hieu Than is a young New Orleans native with an already impressive resume. A French Culinary Institute graduate, in New York he staged in the kitchens of both Tom Colicchio and Paul Liebrandt before returning to New Orleans where he worked with Sue Zemanick at Gautreau’s. His skill set showcases both classic French and modernist techniques but without the affectations that often accompany these approaches. Top it off with (at press time) his 2018 James Beard nomination for Best Chef South and you’ll see that this is a chef with a bright future.
Tonkotsu on Magazine Street
Nomiya on Magazine Street serves up bowls of Tonkotsu with an array of toppings including fish cakes, egg, pickled ginger and more. The Geki-Kara turns up the spice thanks to a chili paste made with ghost pepper. Pork buns and edamame are available as well. Seating is limited and libations are BYOB.
4600 Washington Ave., Gert Town, 304.8557. L, D Tues-Sat. Closed Sun & Mon.