As the lines that have spiraled down Bushwick’s ordinarily desolate Johnson Street since last Wednesday can aptly attest too, Ichiran isn’t your average Brooklyn restaurant debut. In fact, the borough was a somewhat unlikely choice for the Japanese phenomenon’s first stateside branch—considering patrons are much more accustomed to cooling their heels for ramen in Manhattan, at spots like Ippudo, Totto and Hide-Chan.
But Ichiran’s reputation precedes it; made famous by a stringently structured dining experience that’s just as compelling as their meticulously crafted soup. Although it should be stated that the former is in devoted service to the latter, designed to direct absolute attention to the food by regimenting the ordering process, and clearing away any and all distractions.
Because by Ichiran’s estimation, there’s a scant 15 second window within which to enjoy ramen; as in truth, it begins to self destruct the very moment that noodles touch broth. The countdown begins almost immediately after being ushered into “flavor concentration booths”—cubicles walled on three sides and flanked by single stools—which have become axiomatic restaurant code for eat, pay, leave. For the uninitiated, various signs and pamphlets advise on prescribed etiquette. Start by customizing your tonkotsu (the primary item available) on a paper form, using checks to select everything from the firmness of the noodles, to the richness of the stock, to the measure of add-ins like garlic, scallions or chashu, to the spice level, resulting in dime to palm-sized dollops of hiden no tare, a proprietary chili sauce.
After signaling the kitchen with a button, a few moments pass before a steaming, personalized bowl is deposited in front of you—delivered by a spectral set of hands through a scrolled-up bamboo screen. But since a laminated FYI admonishes that “Flavor concentration is in progress, please be quiet and silence your phones,” best to use the time to bone up on all things Ichiran. Illuminated eye-high primers expound on its history (it was founded in Fukuoka in 1960), its noodles (which are made in-house daily, taking fluctuating conditions like temperature and humidity into account), and its broth, culled from pure filtered water and pork bones, and simmered for hours under constant supervision.
There are even instructions on how to eat, such as the suggestion to slurp three or four spoonfuls of stock from the side, before gradually incorporating toppings. And then the race to the bottom is on—freed from the contraints of Instagram updates and banal small talk, diners can consign their entire being to the consumption and appreciation of ramen; obediently sucking down pasta strands before they become bloated with stock. When followed to the letter, a meal at Ichiran can indeed be transcendent, if exceedingly fleeting—as emptying your bowl and laying your chopsticks to rest hastens a swift eviction to Johnson Street.
374 Johnson Ave., Bushwick
Photos by Maggie Shannon