"I need one spicy mazemen ramen,” Matthew Hoa, the baby-faced executive chef at Dallas’ newest ramen shop, Ten, announced. Sous chef Christian Koelling cranked the heat on a sauté pan, spun around to the other side of the galley and started chopping roast pork belly. “Hai,” he offered, softly. In about two minutes, I would come face-to-dish with one of the most delicious noodle bowls to be encountered in Dallas. I had my chopsticks at the ready.
Koelling hit the smoking pan with squeeze bottles full of olive and chili oil, and then added a fat pinch of chopped onions from the nearby prep table. The onions exploded in a loud and steamy flash, and bits of flame leapt from the pan. The pork belly dove in moments later, along with another dual-squirt from bottles, these armed with sake and mirin, a sweeter rice wine. A spoonful of sugar and a ladle of shoyu came next, and the pan went quiet, its angry sizzle settling into a hushed simmer. The flavors began to meld.
The results, aromatic from eight feet away on the other side of the counter, were neatly dumped into a bowl containing freshly cooked noodles, cucumber julienned into matchsticks, scallions, fried shallots and a soft-boiled egg. Steam quietly rose as two pieces of nori stood at attention at the side of the bowl. I observed the creation for a brief, quiet moment. Then I tore in.
Ten opened this spring in Sylvan Thirty, the West Dallas development that isn’t Trinity Groves. It’s the handiwork of Tei-An chef and owner Teiichi Sakurai. As ramen restaurants roll into Dallas like a tsunami of shoyu, Sakurai wants to differentiate his by more closely emulating the noodle shops of Japan. He tapped Hoa, then sous chef at Tei-An, to run the place, and built a narrow kitchen tailored to soup-making. Customers can see everything from the stand-up counter where they eat.
Large pots of broth simmer next to a steaming noodle-station and a prep station stocked with toppings, underneath a window into the back kitchen. Farther down the line, a grill with all the burners cranked to scorched-earth smokes and pops as slices of pork sizzle away. Next, a six-burner range sits at the ready. That’s where I witnessed the birth of my mazemen.
The whole sequence was kicked off when I placed my order using one of the new touch-screens mounted to the wall inside the door. Koelling told me the screens confused some customers when Ten first opened, so Chashu the French bulldog, a sort of mascot for the restaurant, was introduced as a culinary liaison. You’ll see him painted on the wall above the screens in a playful comic strip, each pane walking you through the steps to place an order. In the last pane, Chashu, which is also the name for the pork belly added to many dishes here, is splayed out on his back, relishing a state of glorious ramen contentment. Don’t worry — you’ll be right alongside Chashu soon enough.
But first you have to decide what you want. Ten is more than just a ramen shop. Yes, you can get tonkotsu and shoyu bowls, and yes, they are among the best bowls ladled out in Dallas, but there are other noodle and rice dishes that shouldn’t be missed.
There are also specials. There was a gumbo-inspired version on one of my visits, though I was still too obsessed with the mazemen to try it, and a summer noodle dish served just as cold as Texans like their beer.
Whatever you get, don’t break ramen protocol; Sakurai takes the authenticity of his ramen shop seriously. The rules posted to a chalkboard at the back of the restaurant aren’t as strict as those customers encounter in Japan and New York — including no cell phone use and even no talking at all — but they’re enforced, and they contribute significantly to the experience of eating at Ten.
Rule No. 1 is no takeout orders. Fresh noodles absorb broth like a sponge, turning beautiful bowls of soup into soggy messes of spaghetti. If you want to eat Hoa’s ramen, you’ll have to pony up to the bar. There are no seats, no benches, no couches or any other surface that could potentially cradle your backside. Here, you will slurp noodles on your feet, or sitting on the steps outside.
According to Koelling, the rule that’s broken most often is No. 4: Listen for your name. Customers often place an order and then wander off to check out the roof deck or shop for locally farmed peaches at the market across the street. Koelling’s soft voice barely makes it out the door, but I love that they don’t make use of a PA system, which would completely destroy the laid-back vibe. Even when Ten is mobbed, there’s still a calm about the place.
The rest of the rules seem more playful — don’t make a mess, chopsticks are for pros, etc. — and I get the sense that violations are met with a bit of indifference. But don’t even think about a takeout bowl. It ain’t gonna happen.
There are more unwritten rules that govern the art of noodle slurping, loosely penned by ramen enthusiasts around the globe, but you’d be wise to ignore all of them. Your primary mission is to maximize your own enjoyment, and you should do it however you see fit. Slurp loudly, sip quietly, lightly doctor your bowl or pummel it with freshly pressed garlic. They’re your noodles.
I like a restrained drizzle of the sweat-inducing chili oil (ghost chili alert!) and nothing else. I then proceed to eat like the Warner Brothers Tasmanian Devil moves across the Outback, my left hand ladling spoonfuls of broth into my mouth as the chopsticks in my right hand facilitate a constant upward-moving stream of wriggling, yellow noodles. The whirlwind continues until nothing remains at the bottom of the bowl but a small puddle of broth, which I quickly pour into my face.
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However you slurp, you might keep rule No. 3 in the back of your mind. “No loitering” may not apply to active eaters, but a steady queue of ramen devotees will be forming behind you as you eat. Customers often dig in while standing outside or sitting on the steps, pushing the tiny restaurant’s capacity to the brink and making for a very busy dishwasher. You won’t be explicitly hurried through your meal, but in the middle of a rush — and there’s always a rush — the implicit pressure is real.
Have fun with it. Ten is a restaurant unlike any other in Dallas, and it clings to its authenticity at the risk of putting off some Dallasites. One evening, while I slurped my way through another bowl of mazemen, two women walked partway through the door and stopped short of entering the restaurant. They did a quick scan before whispering in each other’s ears, and then very slowly backed out and left. It was assumed they were either disappointed by the setting, or unwilling to step into a space that offers such a powerful glimpse of a different culture. “How often does that happen?” I asked Koelling, as another drop of chili oil stained my shirt. “All the time,” he said.
Don’t be like those two ladies. Relish the true uniqueness of this new restaurant, and find your inner Chashu in the bottom of that bowl.
1818 Sylvan Ave., Suite 100, 972-803-4400, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Sunday, $$