Ramen! Ramen! Everywhere ramen! (And tacos.) But back to ramen – the city's love affair with these noodly bowls has only deepened, and a break-up isn't very likely. In my estimation, the trend hasn't even peaked, and that's hardly a surprise. Ramen is cheap, for one thing, and it's wholly comforting. Plus it elicits a mild snobbery – "ramen connoisseurship," as Jonathan Gold calls it – particularly among millennials, many of whom gladly queue up for hours for a chance to dribble tonkotsu down their bearded yaps.
At Domu, the (sometimes 45-minute) wait is for a tonkotsu simmered for 18 hours, then ladled into a bowl of al dente noodles. It's called the "Richie Rich" ($13), and it lives up to its name. Ajitama, the marinated soft-boiled egg with near-runny yolk, and the heady essence of sesame only accentuate this opaque pool of luxuriance.
Slurping it all in this familiar space makes you forget the mighty fine Basque fare that was once served within these very walls. It feels brighter in the main dining room ("I feel like I should be singing show tunes," said one of my guests) than it does in the proper lounge, which has a proper midcentury aesthetic and where one can get a proper good drink. Signature cocktails are designed by Rene Nguyen (of Herman's Loan Office and Hanson's Shoe Repair) and the bar is where many choose to enjoy their meal – so long as it's not ramen.
Seems owner Sean "Sonny" Nguyen doesn't want ramen served at the bar for some nebulous reason (maybe because slurping is messy? No one I asked really had a clear answer), but everything else goes. So then, barflies: I suggest going to town on crazy-crisp Korean fried chicken ($8) shellacked in Korean butter sauce; perfectly grilled octopus ($9) with smashed fingerling potatoes; a plate of bracing Sichuan cucumbers ($5); or a bowl of oh-so-cheesy corn ($6) blended with melted mozzarella, Kewpie mayo, scallions and togarashi.
You might even get away with an order of brothless uni ramen ($16), though don't hold me to the fire if you're told otherwise. I had hoped for a little more than a measly dollop of "sea foie" atop the heap of noodles, but a nice uni butter sauce helped temper my dismay, and the addition of ikura (roe) and crispy red quinoa were textural strokes of genius. Still, I'd much rather hover over a steamy bowl of duck-fat-infused shoyu broth ($13), plucking out fried chicken thighs and kikurage 'shrooms. On nights when allergies get the better of me, the sneaky heat of the curry ramen ($13) and its Siamese flavors (infernal Thai hots included) is my soup of choice.
Desserts aren’t offered, though there is a fair bit of candy – eye candy – in the form of a freaky-dreamy Boy Kong mural, potted plants ensconced on walls, and a curious mix of reading materials in the lounge. There are hanging tapestries one of my guests said were reminiscent of the ones in the hotel from The Shining. No doubt Sonny Nguyen is conscious of the impact such whimsical design flurries have on Domu’s target audience – an audience keenly aware that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
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