You’re probably thinking, “What? Another ramen shop?!?!” And it’s not a crazy thought. New York is a city overflowing with wonderful places to eat ramen – some would argue to replace “overflowing” with “oversaturated” – so why would a Japanese chef and restaurateur even consider opening another ramen restaurant here? For Takumi Ito, the answer is simple: “There’s no ramen in the Upper West Side.”
Ito is the chef/proprietor of Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar, which opened on W. 72nd Street during the last week of April. He’s partnered with the owner of Tenzan, a casual sushi restaurant with locations on the Upper West Side as well as the Upper East Side.
“We’re partners, but we’re totally different,” Ito says of the respective cuisines.
In a sense, Ito has a totally different approach from many ramen places you’ll find in the city. A native of Fukuoka, an area of Western Japan that’s known for its tonkotsu ramen with rich pork broth, Ito’s signature ramen has a light broth made with chicken. Ito is quick to point out that Fukuoka is also famous for mizutaki, a chicken hot pot.
After growing up around restaurants his entire life, Ito has been a resident of New York for eight years, honing his craft at Hide-Chan Ramen and listening to customers’ feedback about the broth, noodles, and toppings. Although Ito wants Japanese customers to dine at Zurutto, he confesses that he makes his broth “for Americans” and others for whom pork broth isn’t an option.
“There are many people who can’t eat certain things for religious reasons,” says Ito. “Jewish, Indian, Muslim people can’t have pork. I don’t want to choose my customers by the ingredients. So I make a broth that doesn’t have pork and isn’t too salty because I want my customers to drink all of the broth.”
And the chicken broth is delicious. It’s light and flavorful and perfectly complements the curly noodles. It’s important to note that the chicken ramen comes with a slice of pork chashu, so if you’re in one of the groups that can’t have pork, make sure to tell your server.
Ito’s vegetarian ramen is also a thing of beauty. The broth is a gentle, delicate soymilk bursting with flavor and topped with kimchi.
Being located in the Upper West Side will pay dividends for Zurutto, once Ito and his team educate longtime denizens of the neighborhood. At the restaurant’s soft opening on April 24, when the wait for free food and beer was at least an hour, the staff fielded the question, “What is ramen?” from several locals. It’s hard to believe that there are New Yorkers who have no idea what ramen is, but if the noodles don’t catch on, there are other offerings to savor.
As the name suggests, Zurutto also serves gyoza, with three kinds on the menu. The pork and cabbage gyoza is typical fare with nice, crispy skin. Ito also has cheese gyoza, which he says comes with marinara sauce on the side and tastes like pizza. The pork buns are also a must-try, but the big surprise on the menu is the Kobe beef cheeseburger. A cheeseburger? In a ramen shop?
“Well, ramen is Japanese fast food, and a burger is American fast food, so yes, we have a burger,” explains Ito rather matter-of-factly.
And it’s a fantastic burger. Thick, juicy, bursting with umami. Make sure you save room for it, or split it with your date.
For ramen lovers in the UWS who don’t want to travel to the LES for a bowl of noodles, now they have a place to call their own.
Zurutto Ramen and Gyoza Bar
142 W. 72nd Street (between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues)