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Guy Wong and Mihoko Obunai of Miso talk ramen, labs, and lunch
The return of ramen to menu of chef Guy Wong’s Miso Izakaya is shaping up to be an event. Wong’s ramen, which was once served only after 10 pm at the Old Fourth Ward eatery, earned him more than a few devotees and fans.
Our Best of Atlanta 2011 issue awarded Miso for the best ramen in the city, noting in particular “tonkotsu ramen garnished with thick slices of tender pork belly, soft-boiled egg with a deep orange yolk, mushrooms, corn, toasted seaweed, and an abundance of perfectly cooked, still-springy noodles.” Like many others, we were more than a little surprised and disappointed that Wong took it off the menu near the beginning of this year.
Now that Wong has partnered with Mihoko Obunai, the former chef-owner of Repast, Miso will begin serving the much-adored ramen at lunch. Obunai and Wong recently took a trip to New York to visit Ramen Lab to create custom ramen noodles for their venture. Next Tuesday, September 11, they’ll host a dinner at Miso starting at 5:30 pm to kick off the ramen service. (That same night, Obunai will make an appearance on the Food Network show, Chopped.) The following week on Tuesday, September 18, they’ll commence regular lunch service from 11 am – 2 pm every Tuesday through Friday.
We caught up with Wong and Obunai to talk more about ramen and the particulars of customizing noodles in lab. Check out the coversation below.
When did the two of you decide to start working together on the ramen project?
Guy Wong: Mihoko and I are good friends. One day, the conversation of ramen came up and she asked why I didn’t do it anymore. To do ramen properly from scratch it takes a lot of time. Trying to do my regular dinner menu and the ramen together was too difficult to handle at the time. So with Mihoko, I asked her if she was willing to do it with me and I am so happy that she agreed.
I was so excited to do ramen this year because I was hoping that we would have a cold winter but we didn’t! When I was doing the ramen I was envisioning the Campbell Soup commercial where the snowman walks into the house and takes a sip of the soup and the snow starts to melt off. Hopefully this year the weather will be perfect.
Mihoko Obunai: I am from Tokyo and ramen is something that I grew up enjoying. This is a great opportunity to show the public that ramen is not just cheap instant noodles. It is true food for the soul.
Who runs the ramen lab? How did you find out about this place?
GW: The Ramen Lab is run by Kenshiro Uki (co-founder of Sun Noodle) and Nakamura Shigetoshi (ramen master). They have started the ramen lab to give opportunity to chefs to customize their own noodles. If you try ramen that taste similar to one another its a good chance they are not making from scratch. Each chef has their own style of broth. So they believe that each chef should be able to have their own noodles.
MO: Guy mentioned that Ivan Orkin was in town doing a ramen dinner and that he had noodles customized in New Jersey and that we should check it out. We contacted the Ramen Lab and it just so happens that I already met Kenshiro before, at the StarChefs ICC conference in New York. He gave us an invite to the lab and it was a great experience.
What are you able to control in creating a custom ramen noodle?
GW: We are able to control the density of the noodles and how the broth sticks to the noodles. A lot of times if the ramen noodle does not have the correct density it will taste bland. When we create the broth at our own specific brix (sugar content that measures the strength of the solution) at a high level we need to decrease the density of the noodles because the broth is much denser.
Will you be using different styles of the custom ramen noodles?
MO: Traditionally shoyu-ramen, we use the classic wavy noodles. Tonkotsu-ramen, we use straight noodles. Miso-style ramen, we use a thicker wavy noodles. Depending on the different regions the noodles vary in size. Because everyone is familar with the instant noodles most they think that all ramen noodles are curly. It will be interesting to see how people are surprised by the different types.
When will you start serving?
MO: On September 11th we are doing a Ramen Preview Dinner at Miso Izakaya. It will start at 5:30pm and end when we are out of broth, which takes 32 hours to make. We know that a lot of people may not get to come during the lunch hours so we thought that it would be a great chance for them to try it for one night dinner before we start the lunch service.
GW: Lunch service will start on the 18th. I know this is cheesy, but for the first 20 people who order a bowl of ramen we are going to give away a free ramen t-shirt designed by the great Alvin Diec!