Enter any college student’s kitchen, and you are bound to find a collection of bright colored packages labeled “Top Ramen”. Instant noodles have been keeping American college students full of sodium for years thanks to their cheap price point and their easy cooking instructions. For many, this is the first, and often, only impression of ramen. Fortunately, traditional Japanese style ramen shops have been popping up throughout the country, giving America a taste of a more sophisticated and authentic take on the classic dish.
James Beard nominee chef, Teiichi Sakurai is a leading force in the Dallas dining scene. Tei-An is his flagship in the Arts District, with a creative and vibrant menu of Japanese cuisine. The traditional omakase dinner changes nightly and is truly one of the best meals in the city. Those on a shoestring budget drifted to Tei-An throughout the years to grab a chair and slurp down Sakurai’s ramen. Having such success with the Japanese classic, he opened TEN Ramen in the trendy Sylvan Thirty development.
Blink and you’ll miss it. TEN has an unassuming presence within the Sylvan Thirty area and the space itself feels a bit like a shoebox. On a busy Friday evening, you’ll find yourself fighting for a place to stand inside the quaint dining room.
This is by design.
TEN was designed to be like the small ramen eateries in Japan, where standing at the counter is the one and only way to consume your bowl. TEN has about 12 spots for standing inside, and dependent on how large your fellow diners are, there is room for an additional 6-8 on the small patio.
Once you gather your bearings, ordering is a cinch. The menu is simple and is displayed on a large chalkboard on the wall. Two iPads hang at the wall by the door, with further explanations of the menu options. The menu always includes a handful of non-ramen options, but why bother? The full experience must be taken in with a full bowl of ramen (and perhaps an Asahi Draft beer). Make sure to bring plastic, because the electronic order system doesn’t have a cash option. The staff won’t be busing your counter either, they are to busy preparing the wonderful goodness in the open kitchen.
A little overwhelmed? It’s ok, TEN provides a fun set of rules on the wall so you can get the hang of things. The staff is also quite jovial and talkative as they hand out those cold beers and chat while they prepare orders.
Forget what your mother always told you because slurping is not only a positive thing here, it’s encouraged. But don’t ask to take your food to-go. TEN has a strict no takeout policy and spots are first come first served, so don’t be a Boy Scout and try to camp out. And, don’t forget to give your empty bowl and tray back to the kitchen when you are done. This keeps the ramen assembly line running at optimal speed for the next customers.
Ok, enough of the logistics. You came for the ramen, so let’s get down to business. The chef calls your name, so you take your tray and move to an open spot. There are plenty of add ons like garlic, salt and chile oil along with the tools of the trade: chopsticks and Japanese soup spoons. Doctor your food up all you’d like, but err on the side of caution until you’ve had a few bites. Some of TEN’s weekly specials can lean towards the spicy side, so it’s best to be careful.
The 2, traditional options you’ll always find on the menu are the Tonkotsu and the Shoyu. Tonkotsu is a classic ramen dish with a broth base of pork bones served with sliced pork belly. TEN chooses a concentrated pork base instead of pork bones to create a lighter broth, and the result is comfort food at its best. Shoyu is a soy broth that is often found in Tokyo ramen houses. Both bowls seem to be just the right size. The perfectly cooked noodles swim in the complex yet even-handed broth, with appropriate toppings including seaweed, scallions, bamboo shoots, and ginger. It’s hard not to slurp as you take in all the amazing goodness the bowl has to offer. Chopsticks and spoon prove worthy companions as you savor every last gulp. And when you find just broth left, no greater compliment can be given to the chef than to take your bowl in both hands and tip it over, drinking every last drop.
The classics are obvious routes to a great meal, but the specials can also be equally rewarding. The lobster ramen, which is often on the menu, is based with a miso broth that include sake and mirin. Plenty of togarashi spice adds an amazing kick that still respects the beauty of the lobster flavor of the broth and the fresh crab meat within the bowl itself. The result is an elevated seafood experience that is rarely found in landlocked Dallas.
TEN Ramen is a tucked away gem just south of downtown Dallas. The dinner experience won’t be lenghty, but you can always continue your evening a few doors down at several bars and shops within Sylvan Thirty. Or, just go home and crash on the couch, feeling the warmth that only a superior bowl of ramen can provide.
All photos by Jonathan Greer except for those from Instagram