Back in April, we had a very special Umamiventure-- Marcel (we call him that here), a dude who has been making ramen out of his home for the last year and a half, invited Umamimart over to try it. Fifteen of us showed up and gathered in his living room as he toiled away in the kitchen, meticulously overseeing each detail of the ramen accouterments. Everything had been made from scratch-- the noodles, the broth, the pork, even the menma (bamboo shoots).
It was a memorable meal-- not only in the fact that we were eating on Marcel's own personal dining table, but because his ramen is the real deal. I remember the silence at the table while we all slurped through our bowls. When food's too good to stop and chat, especially when there are that many of us, you know it's really that good.
In these past months Marcel has been taking his noodle art to the next level. Turns out he's been helping out in the kitchen at Sally's After Dark, a diner-by-day-white-linen-hotspot-by-night, presiding over their commercial stove, in all its skyrocketing BTU glory. Any chef's wet dream, to go from a chincy home stove to one in a restaurant kitchen. Oh, the possibilities!
After months of being MIA, Marcel presented his ramen for the first time outside of his home at Sally's After Dark, two weeks ago. It was a night the restaurant was closed, and the owners graciously offered him the space for this private event. The place had a steady stream of people coming in and out throughout the night-- Marcel had asked people to RSVP with a certain time, so he wouldn't get overwhelmed all at once. So smart.
As always, the guest list was invite-only. Marcel has amassed a large list of ramen devotees in San Francisco (where he was born and raised) who get first dibs on the limited number of seats-- which is to say, a very limited number ramen.
The menu was a three course pre-fixe for $20 including Kirin beer on draft. Not especially cheap-sounding by normal ramen standards, but it makes sense with the beer. Besides, Ippudo in NYC sells their ramen for like $15 a bowl (and it's not even that good), so this is a bargain in comparison.
Cucumbers with ponzu. I wanted this to be pickled.
Edamame simmered in soy sauce.
Marcel's Hakata Ramen (his specialty): Housemade noodles in pork broth. Two slices of chashu, soft boiled egg, housemade menma, bean sprouts, scallions, ginger, nori, and spicy ball o'heat.
The soup. It's all about the soup. Marcel works on this for DAYS.
Super depth, super UMAMI.
And the soy-marinated egg is soft-boiled perfection.
Yuzu geletin with a red shiso glaze.
Good ramen is a scarcity in SF and in NYC, and Marcel's passion for the noodle shines brilliantly in each bite. He is dedicated, one could say obsessively, to perfecting the art of ramen. Here are Marcel's own notes about his ramen:
"I'm specializing in tonkotsu ramen, which consists of thin straight noodles in a pork based broth, much more body and sweetness than the usual suspects in the area. I would like to share with everyone this regional style of ramen that originated in the south of Japan and became very popular in the late 80s in Japan. The majority of the components are house-made, no chemicals or artificial bits, and with as many as I can, the ingredients are organic."
Now, this event was not to be mistaken as a "pop-up" which are all the rage here in SF. "From a logistical standpoint, I'm not able to make enough food to serve a lot of people," says Marcel, "So instead of having lots of people wait a long time for a limited quantity of orders and potentially not even getting food, I prefer to make a certain amount and invite people. It's more like the underground supper clubs than the pop-ups. Of course, my ultimate goal is to have a restaurant and be able to serve the greater public."
While I admit I am a huge fan of the Limited Edition, the long lines at every pop-up here are just dreadful, and the food rarely lives up to the hype. Marcel puts his friends and fellow ramen devotees before the PR and refuses to sell out. He wants to make sure that everyone enjoys themselves, and his ramen, without any fuss. For now, Marcel hopes to keep Ramen Night going once a month, times and locations TBD.
How do you sign up, Marcel?
"Friends can invite their friends, who can then add themselves to the mailing list. I'm growing the group this way to build the list at a comfortable pace and keeping the crowd from being total strangers. So they sign-up with their email on ramen night, and they'll get the notification for next ramen night. I am planning to roll out a webpage/ personalized URL, wherein people can RSVP themselves. The number of available spots is still pretty low because it is dictated by how much I can make at a time and the equipment/facilities."
Marcel is calm, humble and soft-spoken-- something like the Ramen Master in Tampopo. (The young dude is Ken Watanabe, who was in INCEPTION, scarfing down his steak. Always eating, that Watanabe. Head shake shame).
When I asked Marcel to sum up his ramen in one line, he said, without hesitation, "SF represent, dammit!"
See you later, chashu! あとでね！