“Hey, it’s 100 degrees outside. Everybody — let’s go get ramen!”
Perhaps right now is not a likely time of the year to heed this directive. But now that Fort Worth has its first dedicated ramen restaurant, Hanabi Ramen & Izakaya — in the Cultural District across the street from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth — there’s no time like the present to dive into the noodle soup.
From the owners of north Fort Worth’s Hanabi Hibachi and Sushi comes this restaurant and bar, meant to be part slurp-station, part Izakaya — traditionally, where Japanese people go for a casual pit stop for snacks after a day’s work. At lunch, it has a ramen-only menu; dinner adds a varied selection of the suddenly ubiquitous “small plates.”
Hanabi offers eight variations of ramen, from the pork-broth based tonkotsu ($9.50) to the kara miso tsukemen ($13) — a spicy version of the the soup with noodles served in a separate bowl for dipping. Modifications differentiate the soups: If you prefer a spicier version of the tonkotsu, order the karami tonkotsu, which comes with seasoned ground pork.
The ramen-ordering was a bit confusing, complicated by a few inconsistencies in the kitchen. For instance, it took us awhile to determine that one of our soups was missing the ground pork that we desired.
But when you do wade in, you’ll be duly rewarded with savory broth that is bedecked with rich ingredients like pork belly and ajitama — a soft-boiled egg that has been seasoned in a soy-based marinade. The latter addition lends otherworldly richness to the already-nuanced broth; the generous amount of luscious pork belly in the kara miso tsukemen teetered on the edge of overkill.
More understated is the izakaya/small plates menu, which is organized into entrees, grilled skewers, fried skewers, tempura plates and salads. Under each header are just a handful of items to choose from, like pedestrian gyoza dumplings and edamame — inexplicably called “entrees” here — and a seaweed salad. At a recent dinner, we drew ordering inspiration from the more unique-sounding dishes, including the takoyaki (fritters with grilled octopus; $5), the tempura scallops ($6) and fried chicken kushi skewer ($3.50).
Of the three, the takoyaki proved irresistible — a sweet pancake-like batter encasing bits of chewy, salty octopus. The unique flavors were offset decoratively with a bit too much of a mayo-and-teriyaki garnish. On top of the five sushi-shaped pieces, bonito flakes glistened, dancing and yielding an “it’s alive!” moment. Really, the flakes were just moving as a reaction to the heat of the fritters, but in the dimly lit dining room, it wasn’t immediately obvious.
Unfortunately, the batter eluded the scallops, which were nearly undercooked, and they instantly shirked their outer layer at first forkful. A mix-up in the kitchen turned our fried chicken skewer into a grilled chicken skewer. And, alas, the chicken-breast pieces were lackluster and dry.
A few more lost-in-translation moments followed, including a pork skewer accidentally arriving at our table. But when the ramen arrived, pretty much everything was forgiven.
Hanabi is an attractive restaurant, marrying bold red tones with subtle gold touches. Bamboo poles serve as dividers between some of the tables, and the flashy, brightly lit bar at the front is at once unique and authentic — upon entering, you feel instantly transported to somewhere other than the sauna that is Fort Worth at mid-summer.
So amid the air-conditioning, we happily slurped the spicy, heady broth, redolent of onion and slicked with chili oil. And as the speakers played peppy music from Bruno Mars, we realized you would be hard-pressed not to treasure the arrival of Hanabi.