The Waiting is the Hardest Part

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Hello readers!!  I am finally back to having the option to post after two whole weekends without internet.  (GASP!)  I know I haven’t actually posted anything since March, but in the last two weeks I really wanted to.  Probably because I couldn’t.  Funny how that works.    Anyways, here’s another ramen bit from Otherhalf.  He actually wrote this in March, which really is only noticeable in the parts about how cold it still is.  Even though it has been an unseasonably cold spring, today it was actually in the 80s.  (I apologize to anyone who I may have blinded with my pasty white legs today, because this girl wore shorts!!)  

 

“Waiting on Wasabi”  by Otherhalf

So daily temps are finally approaching seasonal norms and what better way to celebrate than with a super tasty bowl of ramen? And so we traversed the mean streets of Chicago through inane waves of never ending traffic, red light camera traps, and pot holes that seemingly serve as gateways to hell and arrived at our vaunted destination, Wasabi, in Chicago’s hip and trendy Bucktown neighborhood. I’ve been to this restaurant a few times with some close friends and family and was very grateful to be back as it had been over a year since our previous visit.

We arrived at seven on a Friday night and were greeted by a full restaurant with happy customers slurping away over their bowls of ramen amidst delicious appetizers and BYOB bottles of wine and beer alike. This is always a sure sign of a good meal ahead. It’s also a sure sign of the wait you may have to endure as Wasabi does not take reservations and only does walk-up service. Now as part of a group of 4, you have to factor in a pretty decent wait time especially since it’s 7 on a Friday night, the restaurant is full, and every other party ahead of you in line seems to be a group of 4. Surprisingly, the supposed “wait time” was 30 to 35-minutes, which is not too shabby considering the conditions. But as it always seems to happen when you are enjoying a wonderful meal, you take your time, which is what everyone in the restaurant seemed to be doing. In all honesty, it’s hard to blame them. You’ve put your name in with the host or hostess, you’ve waited in line, and now you’ve finally been seated. Time to savor this meal!

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When you’re on the other side of the glass waiting though, all you can think about is why the hell can’t everyone inside eat faster?! At the promised 30 to 35-minute mark, it seemed that no one in front of us had moved. Now bear in mind, as much as temps have improved in Chicago lately, it was still only about 30 degrees or so, and after waiting this long, you start to feel it a little bit. Not only that but suddenly all you can hear are the conversations around you because you’ve used all your good material and can’t think of anything else except sitting down to eat because you haven’t eaten since a small snack earlier in the afternoon because you knew that you would do something Friday night but weren’t quite sure what so you didn’t want to ruin your potential appetite because you know you may be eating something or somewhere that had the potential to be awesome and once you’ve made the decision and you know where you’re going and what’s waiting for you when you’re finally seated, you’re thoughts become laser focused and that throbbing sound you hear is the repeated hammering of the word ramen, ramen, ramen as it is blazes across the depths of your mind. And then, your name (or phone in this case) is called and you and your group are now the chosen ones! Life is pretty sweet again.

Even though we waited over an hour to be seated, we were very grateful for it since it was placed near the back of the restaurant away from the riff raff that we were once a part of. In short, we didn’t have to worry about eating quickly and could enjoy a nice relaxing meal without any hint of guilt. Not that you should feel guilty about taking your time and enjoying a meal with friends and family anyways, but it’s always so much easier to do so in anonymity rather than in front of a large window affronted by groups of gawking, hungry strangers. It’s a comfort thing I guess. An added bonus was we got to sit in a booth instead of a table. All in all, the wait was worth it. The hostess was very gracious and apologetic about the wait, and the restaurant setting provided a feeling of warmth and comfort. Now… let’s eat.

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this is a view of the bar and food prep area from our cozy booth.

We started with some appetizers, which included pork belly buns (the light fluffy buns and crispy lettuce provided a great contrast to the wonderfully rich pork belly), skewered chicken meatballs (great chicken taste with a light grilled flavor finished with a brush of rich soy sauce), grilled asparagus skewer (good clean asparagus flavor with a light bitterness), chicken lollipops (fried chicken legs served with a wonderful creamy sauce), and a decadent piece of o-toro or fatty tuna belly, which was absolutely divine. In baseball terms, these appetizers loaded the bases full of runners for the vaunted clean-up hitter, ramen, to hit it out of the park and turn this dinner into a grand slam.

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these are the pork belly buns. and this photo is the reason there are no other food photos.

In this case the bowl of ramen was a tonkotsu style ramen. It’s a type of ramen that utilizes pork as one of its main flavoring agents, and boy did it shine through in spades. The ramen broth was opaque and somehow creamy, but without any fear of the ingredients in the broth settling, which to me is kind of remarkable. There seemed to be a density to the broth all its own that was packed chock full of a rich meaty flavor with a seeming tinge of seafood beyond that provided by the sliced nori topping, at least to my palate. In addition to pickled bamboo slices, the ramen was accompanied by braised pork belly that was absolutely majestic. Instead of being overly break apart tender, the braised pork had a wonderful chew and fatty marbling that provided a great companion to the ramen noodles. There was a very rich soy sauce and star anise like flavor to the braised pork that provided a savory almost barbeque type character. This flavor only served to fortify the rich flavor of the broth. It was a great combination. The noodles themselves were also really good. They weren’t too soft or overly firm. Overall, Wasabi is a great place to get a really good bowl of ramen.
While the wait wasn’t exactly fun, the resulting dinner was really wonderful. If you’d like a chance to experience some great Japanese fare that utilizes modern tricks and techniques to augment tried and traditional ways in addition to an absolute great bowl of ramen, give Wasabi a try. Don’t be disheartened by the wait, think instead of the great meal ahead.

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