I realize I'm rolling a heavy stone up a steep hill, but Wabi House, the latest ramen restaurant planned for Greenville Avenue, has me feeling a little down. I get it: Trends drive restaurant menus, and they drive customers, too. But the restaurateurs who explore less fetishized cuisines contribute most to a city's culinary culture.
Let's first note that Dallas is woefully behind on the ramen wave. Ramen restaurants began their push in larger cities well over a decade ago. And look where that's gotten them. I happened to be in New York over the holidays and while wandering around, I passed several ramen restaurants without even looking for them. They were everywhere. They're so ubiquitous that David Chang of Momofuku declared ramen dead last year. Ruined. This, from one of the guys who started the whole trend.
So now, New Yorkers are swimming in a sea of pork bone broth, from one forgettable ramen shop to the next. Sure, there are some good ones, but the deluge has diluted them. What good is that? And why would we want that here in Dallas, especially when we're 10 years late to the game?
What really gets under my chopsticks is that there are so many soups we could be exploring. I get it. Ramen is sexy. Ramen is a tall brunette with a short dress and glossy red lipstick. But plenty of other soups have their own allure. Why not tap into that?
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Pho is popular, but it hasn't really received that doting, decadent treatment of a chef who has been completely entranced in his obsession. Mot Hai Ba came close, but the pho served there plays support to a sizable menu of other Vietnamese dishes. Pho deserves its own stage. And it deserves some sort of artistic interpretation that would make it special and unique to Dallas.
Or what about chicken noodle? Picture a restaurant that roasts birds 20 at a time over oak embers, sells them takeout with fried yucca and uses the leftovers to make a rich luxurious soup that could bitch-slap the bird flu. That would turn some heads. I could see the line starting to form a few minutes before they open, and the fantasy isn't far-fetched at all.
Monkey King is off to a great start. They hit the streets with little more than dumplings and a beef noodle soup, but that soup had real depth and character. Now they've got chicken and wonton versions, a line down the street and a handful of awards. It almost seems simple. (It's not.)
Restaurant scenes, like many things, gain strength from diversity, and something tells me this ramen bubble will eventually pop. With Teiichi Sakurai's Ten coming to the Sylvan 30 on top of the many other bowls you can get around town, Dallas has ramen covered. Super, we've jumped on a trend and demonstrated we can be just like those other guys. Now, let's see if we can start a trend that ends up somewhere else.