Kyuramen, a ramen franchise with more than 120 locations in the United States and Japan, opened its first Illinois restaurant in Oak Park at 118 N. Marion. It was brought to the village by Terry Wilson and his partners Hui Zhu, Miao Chang and Chief Zhixin Hu.
“We watched Oak Park for about two years, hoping to get in here,” Wilson told us. “We spent a lot of time in the community, did our analysis to understand our customers, our guests, and we decided that Oak Park would be a good community to be a part of, and that’s our goal: to be a part of the community.”
The slowdown in the global supply chain, Wilson acknowledged, continues to present some challenges: “Our electrical panels, for example, are custom made and they have been out of stock for 180 days. Operationally, the restaurant took a year to build, and much of it was built by hand. »
On a recent Saturday night, at the end of the first full week of work, the scene inside Kyuramen was one of controlled chaos: lots of people eating, lots of people waiting to eat, and what appeared to be a staff relatively important hustling to make sure everyone was well fed and happy. “We have about 35 employees here,” says Wilson, “because high-quality service is one way to really make your restaurant stand out, and we’ve determined that high levels of service and food quality are what Oak Park residents are looking for. in a new restaurant.
Kyuramen proved instantly popular, open from 11am to 11pm every day, and it always seemed full, sometimes with a queue at the door. We asked Wilson when, if ever, it was possible to come straight in and have a seat, and he said, “If you don’t like waiting, the best time to visit would be an hour after midnight. opening or one hour before closing.
The menu, other than appetizers/extras/drinks, is all about ramen. Bowls are around $16. “Kyu” means nine in Japanese, and Wilson told us that the name Kyuramen means the restaurant serves nine versions of ramen. Menu number one is Tokyo Tonkatsu Shoyu Ramen, for example, with pork chashu, a classic Japanese pork roll, aged in bourbon barrels, seasoned with soy and sake, and braised. The ramen bowls also contain pickled eggs, bamboo shoots, corn, scallions, and two edible seaweeds, wakame and nori. Many variations of Kyuramen’s ramen take advantage of these core ingredients, with added flavors coming from additional elements like kimchee, miso, or curry. For a slight extra you can get a “combo” with a surprisingly spicy pork bun and fresh, sweet Thai iced tea, a welcome sip given the chilli-laced pork and spicy seasonings on the table, including the cayenne pepper and sauerkraut.
Diners ordering Tokyo Tonkatsu Shoyu Ramen have a choice of either white or black (aged) garlic, and like many other ingredients in their ramen, the black garlic is aged on site. A lot of work goes into every bowl of Kyuramen.
“Our ramen,” Wilson explained, “is the most traditional style of Japanese cuisine. To make our pork base, we take eighty pounds of pork bones, add seasonings, and boil over low heat for four days to get all the flavor out of it.Sometimes we have cooks who stay with the broth in the store overnight just to make sure it comes out right.
A focus on well-made, traditional ingredients is a priority for Wilson. To cook the pickled egg to the exact consistency — the consistency of the yolk delicately balancing somewhere between liquid and solid — you need a steady hand in the kitchen…and lots of practice. “Even experienced chefs,” says Wilson, “are required to cook 400 to 600 of these eggs a day for three or four weeks until they get a perfect egg. It’s all about technique and time; the only way to learn how to cook this egg is through lots of trial and error.
Japanese cuisine is often all about one-bite perfection, and Wilson tells us that each bowl of ramen meets the company’s set standards for color, height, and flavor profile. There are even scales at the cooking station to measure each ingredient to the nearest gram. “Each ramen can contain five or six sauces, so we have to be precise. We do all of this,” Wilson says, “to make your mouth say, ‘Wow! » »
Kyuramen’s layout follows a characteristic Japanese aesthetic of sleek, clean lines in a well-lit and well-organized space. There’s a noodle bar out back where you can watch the chefs efficiently prepare broth and add ingredients. In addition to the regular tables, one side wall contains a row of popular tatami rooms, small private booths separated from the main dining areas by concealed curtains. All tables in the restaurant are on a first-come/first-served basis, although Wilson said a digital reservations system is on the way.
To give you an idea of how quickly Wilson and his team are moving to polish Kyuramen, in the two days since I had been there they had already remodeled the front dining room to increase efficiency but, more importantly again, to better accommodate guests. And they tweak the menu all the time; Wilson told us that they will soon be offering “couples dishes, which are bowls split in a kind of yin-yang shape, so you can put two ramen in one bowl. We’re also going to be offering rice burgers, which are rice buns filled with things like soft-shell crab and fried chicken. Should be fun.”