Chef Alvin Cailan, who rose to fame at Grand Central Market’s Eggslut and is soft-opening Chinatown’s Ramen Champ on Friday, has a colorful take on making ramen.
“Ramen to me is what barbecue is to white people,” says Cailan, who’s partnered with former Men Oh Tokushima chef Nathan Asamoto, as well as chef Johnny Lee (also from Eggslut), on Ramen Champ. “It’s a waiting game. It’s a roasting pig cooked down to a bowl of ramen. How Adam Perry Lang feels about barbecue is how I feel about ramen.”
Cailan’s version of barbecued whole pig on a spit comes in the form of a 20-hour tonkotsu broth “thick as gravy.” A secretly sourced, small-batch local noodle-maker provides the springy carbs.
While Asamoto acts as ramen sensei, enacting all the traditional Japanese methods, Cailan supplements the bowl with classical French technique—as is evident in the house-made sherry vinegar that cleaves the tonkotsu’s fattiness and enhances the pork’s flavor. Cailan also uses Sriracha and garlic oil, rather than elaborate sauces, for better “clinging” to noodles.
Ramen Champ’s heavy-graphics interior is reminiscent of its downstairs neighbor Chego. Black-and-white manga-style artwork created by Mike Houston, renowned for his Lucky Peach and The Mind of a Chef work, beckon guests like a massive coloring book waiting for crayon-wielding hands. At least you can (inadvertently) stain the walls with pork fat.
There’s something for vegetarians and vegans, too. Certainly, ramen houses are not the most welcoming of eating spots for those committed to plant-based diets, so Cailan is also proud to offer a bowl of ramen using eggless noodles, subbing tofu for animal proteins, all swimming in a deep shiitake mushroom broth.
Although the official opening for Ramen Champ is Monday, Friday’s soft opening means you can get your noodles this weekend. (Pssst, there’s a super-soft opening at 6 p.m. today that doubles as a friends-and-family event.)
Ramen Champ, 727 N. Broadway, #203, Chinatown