Plans announced for Dashi, a restaurant and gastropub

Dec. 10, 2013 @ 10:50 AM

Ramen noodle bowls are expected to take center stage on the menu of a new downtown restaurant and gastropub that plans to open downtown next summer.

Dashi will be a joint venture by the owners of Toast, a downtown Italian sandwich shop, and of the commercial kitchen The Cookery.

The ramen served at Dashi will be a “far cry” from instant, plastic-package ramen beloved by college students, according to a news release from the venture’s partners.

“Comparing our ramen bowls to instant ramen is like comparing instant coffee to a expertly crafted latte made from artisan roasted beans,” Nick Hawthorne-Johnson, a co-owner of The Cookery, said in the release. “They are two very different eating experiences.”

The partners plan to open the restaurant in 3,300 square feet of a yet-undisclosed location downtown, according to the release.

Rochelle Johnson, a co-owner of The Cookery, said they haven’t finalized the lease yet.

Plans are for the main floor to house a ramen shop with an open kitchen, while the second floor is envisioned as a gastropub that would serve beverages including sake, a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, and shochu, a Japanese distilled drink, as well as craft cocktails, wine and beer.

Small plates are expected to be available in the bar, and a late-night menu would be available after dinner hours.

This will be the second time the partners have worked together. In February, they teamed up to open Hakanai, a pop-up restaurant, for three nights at The Cookery. The Cookery has both a commercial kitchen where food truck operators and entrepreneurs make and store food, as well as an event space.

Johnson said each of the four partners brings a different expertise to the table.

Toast’s owners Billy and Kelli Cotter together have 53 years of fine dining experience, with Kelli working in roles in the front of the restaurant, and Billy as a chef. His experience includes three years as sous chef at Chapel Hill’s Lantern restaurant. 

“Toast has a focused menu that is dedicated to quality Italian fare,” Kelli Cotter said in a statement. “Dashi will run under that same mission – to offer consistently distinctive meals in a Japanese context.”

Johnson said that while there are similarities with instant ramen, an authentic bowl has distinctive qualities. She said it’s a comfort food that’s also healthy, she added.

According to Hiroko Shimbo, a restaurant consultant, cookbook author and instructor who recently taught a class on ramen at New York City’s International Culinary Center, formerly known as the French Culinary Institute, ramen dates to the 19th century.

As the story goes, she said, Chinese immigrants to Japan began making a noodle soup bowl using ingredients available to them. She said the dish is traditionally made with a chicken-based soup stock and a wheat flour noodle that has yellow-like color because of an ingredient called kansui. She said traditional toppings including includes a pork-braised with soy sauce, sugar and sweet cooking wine as well as egg, seaweed, and thinly sliced scallions.

The dish is very popular in Japan, she said, as quick lunch or quick dinner. It’s also very popular in New York City, she said, adding that the number of restaurants has increased and the quality of the ramen they serve has improved.

“There are more places, and more places are serving really, really good authentic ramen,” she said. “It has a big punch, and that’s really appealing to Americans.”