The chilled, dim, industrial atmosphere inside Ichicoro Ramen over on N. Florida hid the balmy Florida stillness at lunchtime. We rolled in around noon, beating the rush line that can often go out the door just for weekday lunch. Call it beginner luck because we were seated promptly. I hadn’t done my (usually) thorough research, and I really didn’t know I was stepping into a great hall of Japanese noodles.
The contrast between the neighborhood of bright houses and exteriors of neighboring businesses stood in such direct contrast to the inside of this restaurant that I thought I heard a vacuum seal on the door as it close behind us. I’m not sure we would have been allowed to leave until we were full. The building was a converted garage with exposed cinder blocks, industrial caged lighting, and altogether a very minimalist feel. Each place setting was simply a napkin and a wooden ladle, with a simple glass filled with beautiful black chopsticks. There were two bars, one that was closed for lunch, and one that was the countertop to the open kitchen. We sat at one of the long line of two-seater tables. The menu was even more simplified than the atmosphere, with two snacks, four rice dishes, four noodle dishes, and a series of add-ons. The wait staff was friendly, but serious. No flare, no branded uniforms, no small talk. No kitsch, no clutter, no cute. Exhilarating.
With my dry erase marker, I selected the Mushroom Ramen, with Grilled Citrus Shrimp and Seasoned Egg add-ons. My husband chose Shoyu, a chicken broth Ramen with egg and pork belly. We waited for our noodles as we took in the mixture of hipsters, displaced U of T grad students, one-off bar sitters, and some old friends catching up who all served as Ichicoro patrons that day. I settled into the tranquility of the quiet chatter and dim lighting, pleased that the place was more proper restaurant than hurried urban noodle spot. But, our food came within a few minutes.
The Ramen came in large bowls, with noodles hidden underneath and each other ingredient separated around the top. They both were colorful and fragrant.
I dug into my bowl, as much as I could with the ladle in my left hand and chopsticks in my right. The egg was cooked perfectly, with a perfectly gel-like yolk. It was all Umami, you guys. Each mushroom held its own, capturing it’s own flavor and concentration of the savory depth every ramen-eater craves. Every element added to the flavor of the broth. And that BROTH! Perfectly seasoned, not greasy, complex, and fragrant. The noodles were springy and nutty. I left wondering how I would deal with the sometimes-two-hour-wait I was sure to face next time, since my beginner’s luck had ended.
Tampa Bay Ramen-philes rejoice!