923 SE 7th Ave., Portland
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5-10 pm; Friday-Saturday 4-11 pm; Sunday 5-9 pm
The ramen craze has taken over Portland and indeed much of the country. But until now, one style of ramen has predominated. Afuri’s Taichi Ishizuki explains that tonkotsu ramen, first popularized at Ippudo New York, has since become the default in this country. However, this creamy, cloudy, pork-based style is not what is offered at Afuri. Says Taichi, “Generally, there are two ways to make the ramen broth. One is called chintan; the other one is called paitan, or tonkotsu-style. Chintan, which is what we do, means clear broth. We take out the fat component carefully; our broth has different kinds of chicken, fish, veggies. It’s more complex, delicate and smooth, and healthier.” Afuri offers thin, whole wheat noodles in a light broth accented with Japanese citrus and salt, or soy sauce, or roasted green tea and truffle oil. Since the broths are not pork-based, diners can enjoy chicken-based or even vegan noodle soups. The ramen noodles, which are thin like soba, contain no egg.
While Afuri has 10 locations in Japan, Portland is its first location outside of Japan. One reason our city was chosen was for its water. Taichi explains, “Portland’s water has between 17 and 25 parts per million (of dissolved solids), which is considered super-soft. Hard water, like the water in say, Los Angeles, has lots of other components – manganese, magnesium, calcium.” These components affect the all-important broth.
In Japan, restaurants tend to specialize in one particular item; for example, a tempura restaurant would never serve sushi, and a sushi restaurant would never serve tempura. But in the United States, many Japanese restaurants serve a variety of items since most American diners are not accustomed to single-item menus.
Taichi remarks, “In Japan, we only focus on ramen, not other stuff, but here we have brought homemade tofu and skewers, which use the beautiful ingredients in Portland. We grill with charcoal. We have two teams in the kitchen – one for ramen and one for everything else. That makes us able to specialize in other things.”
Those other things include delectable grilled salmon over a bed of velvety edamame puree, perfectly fried chicken (kara age), a small jewel box of sashimi over rice (chef’s bowl) and delicious grilled zucchini skewers. Desserts change frequently; on a recent night, the mixed berry mint sorbet was very refreshing. An impressive bar menu offers many varieties of sake and several unique cocktails with Japanese ingredients.
Diners are encouraged to arrive as early as possible, as Afuri does not take reservations. However, the restaurant is quite large, with seating in the dining room and bar.