I'm a ramen junkie. I've slurped bowls in Tokyo, L.A. and New York. Each ramen shop has a different style and over the past 20 years, ramen has taken on a new life. Gone are the days depicted in the classic Japanese noodle western Tampopo (1985) in which the good guys plot to steal a ramen broth recipe. No need today. While sushi has remained quite traditional, ramen is protean. In other words, there is not one "true" ramen — after all there are 80,000 ramen shops in Japan.
New to Charlotte is Futo Buta Ramen House, the latest endeavor by a partnership headed by chef-owner Michael Shortino, formerly of Baku Robata-Bar-Sushi.
Shortino is a third generation chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Futo Buta is a small 40-seat shop fronting the Blue Line (how cool is that, Charlotte?) with an interior of metal, hewn wood and artisan pottery (some already chipped).
The bar that seats 10 is as much for eating as it is for tippling the shop's beer, sake, wine selection; the communal table is habitually full; and the large patio (seats 40) will be lovely after the heat wave abates. There are a few indoor tables and, thankfully, a standing bar, traditional in ramen joints, should appear in the next few weeks.
Shortino intends to push the limits here taking you one step into future ramen.
The tonkotsu, the pork broth mainstay of ramen shops, glistens with a sheen of gelatin and chashu — fatty pork belly. The sous vide egg is perfectly runny, adding to the richness to the broth.
In addition to tonkotsu, the ramen list offers a quite good miso pork and chicken broth ramen with sweet corn and pork belly; a shoyu chicken broth ramen; a vegan broth soup, and tsukemen (only 10 made daily). This is a deconstructed poached chicken breast soup with the noodles served separately.
If you only order ramen, you may miss out on the other offerings such as a brace of the new bar favorite: shishito peppers. Since one in about 10 of these peppers has some heat, the addicting part of this dish is the roulette-like suspense.
Also good are the crispy rice squares slathered with spicy tuna tartare (delicious) that instantly melt in your mouth.
You'll find more of the abundantly juicy pork belly in a fold over bun with slaw (curiously bland); and crispy Japanese fried chicken, too. If by some miracle you're still hungry, there's house-made soft serve ice cream.
All of this, of course makes for a great addition to SouthEnd dining. But what elevates Futo Buta to city wide status is the decidedly inventive tonkotsu ramen.