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25 Bond Street | 718.403.0900 | gansonyc

by Craig Cavallo

Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Boerum Hill, and Downtown Brooklyn all converge at the newly opened Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  The borough has yet to see the full impact the new stadium will have, but many of the surrounding neighborhoods seem to be diving headfirst into New York’s recent ramen renaissance.  Park Slope got Naruto Ramen earlier this year.  In Prospect Heights, two Morimoto vets serve the dish at Chuko.  Smith Street, just out of the stadium’s reach in Carroll Gardens, recently welcomed Dassara Ramen.  While Boerum Hill and Fort Greene await their respective ramen spots, Downtown Brooklyn gets Japan’s iconic noodle dish at the hands of Harris Salat and Ryuji “Rio” Irie.

Ganso opened last month on a strip of Bond Street between Livingston and Fulton that’s part of the greater Fulton Street Mall area.  If you happen to be walking west on Livingston to get there, you’ll pass a Popeye’s, a Papa John’s Pizza, and then a Subway.  Make a right when you get to the IHOP.  Ganso is the second storefront on the right.  You’ll know it when you see it not so much by the subtle signage or the small neon lights that lend identity to an otherwise nameless entity, but because the façade is all glass and a look through reveals telltale signs of ramen shop: polished wood, right angles and heads swallowed by plumes of steam rising from large porcelain bowls.

Harris Salat is perhaps better known in writer’s circles.  Ganso, his first foray into the restaurant business, comes from his passion for Japanese food culture, about which he maintains a blog and has authored three books.  He met Irie while writing one of these: The Japanese Grill, published in April of last year.  The book was a collaborative effort between Salat and Tadashi Ono, the chef at Masturi, which has since closed, but where Irie was working and would often make ramen for staff meal.  Salat and Irie stayed in touch.

The night we dined at Ganso, Irie’s ramen was offered in four iterations: Ganso, Short Rib, Spicy Miso, and Tan Tan, the vegetarian option with a sesame-chili broth.  The menu may redundantly describe the proteins in the ramen as “slow-braised,” but each bowl is a success in all areas of ramen fundamentals: hot, rich, salty, full of flavor, and served at the perfect temperature to be eaten quickly.  The Ganso and Short Rib ramen are soy-based broths, which puts them in the family of shoyu ramen.  Both tasted of the rich, deep, brown flavors suggested by the broth’s hue.  The Spicy Miso had an even richer, thicker broth that carried those mystical umami flavors and proved to be an excellent vehicle for the scallions, egg, bamboo shoots, and seasonal greens that garnish it.

Ryuji Irie has a strong understanding of Japan’s cuisine; one that Salat explained during a recent phone conversation is achieved through “Balance, not impact.”  In the Short Rib ramen it comes in the form of an “onsen” egg, floating in white contrast to the dark, unctuous soy sauce-beef broth.  Onsen means “hot spring” in Japanese and the egg’s namesake is inspired by hot pools of water that litter Japan’s volcanic landscape, many of which retain water at a steady 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature to slow cook an “onsen” egg.  The “Stamina” ramen, added to the menu since our visit, features chicken chashu.  Chashu refers to a technique common in the Chinese dish Char Siu that the Japanese have adapted and applied to ramen.  Traditionally, chashu is fatty cuts of pork that get braised and sliced, then dropped into bowls of ramen.  At Ganso, Irie applies the same technique to chicken, providing the option of a deeply flavored broth from animal protein for those who may not eat pork.  All of this happens in a simply appointed room, obviously designed by someone well versed in the minimal simplicities of tables and chairs.

Irie’s talent extends beyond the bowl at Ganso and spills over to the “Ippin,” or appetizer, portion of the menu.  Items that have become commonplace on similar menus citywide are no exception here.  Irie offers his version of steamed buns, and there is fried chicken in the form of “Rio’s Wings.”  Salat explained the playful fusion of traditional and modern techniques that lies in the preparation of Rio’s Wings.  When inquiring about the "Ganso special sauce" that dresses them, he also explained, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”  Salat did let on that at the base of the recipe for the glaze on Rio’s Wings is Ishiri, a traditional fish sauce made from squid that ferments for no less than two years.  The glistening result is a loose interpretation of the modern Japanese-American classic known as Teriyaki, which translates to shiny grill and explains the luster on Rio’s Wings that coat a crunch crisp enough to make any Buffalo native proud.

Salat and Irie’s attention to detail is highlighted in their decision to use two different noodles for their ramen.  To match the flavors and profiles of the ramen dishes, noodles are made to Ganso’s specifications at a noodle factory in San Jose, California and Sun Noodle in Teterboro, New Jersey.  An article in a recent issue of New York Magazine explores Sun Noodle’s stronghold on the New York market, drawing comparisons to Pat LaFrieda’s beef operation.  Chuko and Yuji Ramen are clients of theirs and Ivan Orkin will soon be as well when his highly anticipated ramen shop opens early next year in downtown Manhattan.

In the marathon race of ramen restaurants in New York, Ganso has started out with a steady, surefooted stride.  The menu is susceptible to daily changes and daily specials are rattled off by an informed server whose heartbeat will be up around 100 bpm, the result of dealing with a packed house while a crowd gathers at the front door and waits to sit down for a taste of Irie’s additions to Downtown Brooklyn’s growing food fabric.  Ganso recently opened for lunch.  That will soften the wait times.  If you plan on going for dinner, get there early enough and you may be able to avoid the wait.  Otherwise, expect a line and a full room.  But don’t worry, Nas, Mary J. Blige and The Fugees will keep you company via Ganso’s sound system while you wait.  This is Brooklyn after all.

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