By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jan 17, 2014 at 11:04 AM Photography:

Starting today, the Shorewood restaurant formerly known as Anaba Tea Room is trading in its tea inspired appeal and hopping on the ramen train.

The new concept, Tochi, 2107 E. Capitol Dr., will specialize in Asian-inspired fare including a broad selection of ramen, a noodle dish that – until recently – has been little more than a sideline item at Japanese eateries like Osaka Little Japan and a special occasion dish at spots like Umami Moto, Ardent, Prodigal and Hi Hat.

In keeping with the new theme, the restaurant will feature shoji screens around the existing atrium. Wooden floors were installed to warm up the space, and an extended bar area, including two common tables, will take the place of the typical counters found in ramen shops. In the dining area, reclaimed wood tables and 1950’s vintage Japanese cartoons, including a representation of the classic Godzilla, enhance the mood.

Executive Chef Gregg DesRosier says that, after ten years of making tea sandwiches, it seemed like a good time to make a change.

"As Anaba, we were really managing two separate menus," he says, "So part of the goal was making things more cohesive."

DesRosier also had the desire to bring something new to Milwaukee – mainly ramen.

"I’ve been going to New York or Chicago to get ramen," he says. "Here in Milwaukee, it never really happened – aside from a night here and a night there. So, we decided that it was time … that we would be the ones to do it."

Proclaimed one of the biggest food trends in 2013, ramen has been cropping up in restaurants across the U.S., and even inspired Keizo Shimamoto to create the very first ramen burger, a shoyu glazed hamburger sandwiched between a bun made from freshly cut ramen noodles that launched a craze on the east coast.

If, when I say "ramen," you’re thinking of the packets of instant noodles you subsisted on during your college years, it’s time to rethink your impression to include one of the most delicious noodle bowls in the Japanese repertoire.

Authentic ramen is actually a long-held tradition in many regions of Japan, and the creation of ramen bowls is somewhat of an art form. The heart-warming bowls consist of rich broth, Chinese noodles and a variety of toppings including pickled or fresh vegetables, hard-boiled or poached eggs, and various forms of protein.

Ramen broth is an arduous process – the goal of which is to produce a clear, pure stock. Ingredients are varied and can include miso, fish, meat, or vegetables, augmented by additions like bonito flakes, seaweed, beef bones, mushrooms or onions.

DesRosier, whose culinary research has included trips to both China and Vietnam, says that his ramen will definitely pay homage to the east.

"I think what I did the most in researching was to step back and really try to understand what ramen really is," he tells me. "And the more you do that, the more you realize that it’s a regional dish. There’s fish ramen and pork ramen. And when it got to America it was all about having fun with it."

For DesRosier, "fun" will include dishes like Wisconsin ramen, which features bratwurst, beer caramelized onions, spicy pickle relish and dehydrated sauerkraut served in miso mustard broth ($8.95).

"It’s not a joke or a gimmick," he says. "It’s true to the style. But, we want to be fun."

That includes serving spicy miso ramen (featuring pork broth, Singapore noodles, pork belly and Welsh onion) with a spicy miso deviled egg, rather than the more traditional hard-boiled or fried variety.

In addition to the more common styles of miso and shoyu ramen, Tochi will also serve mazeman ramen, a brothless noodle dish served with toppings and sauce. Offerings will include grassfed beef mazeman with shoyu broth, Welsch onions, shiitake mushrooms, a fried egg and bone marrow butter ($11.95).

Regardless of the dish, DesRosier says, the emphasis will be on quality ingredients and the restaurant will support local purveyors like Simple Soyman, who supplies tofu for their mushroom and smoked tofu ramen ($8.95), which also contains a micro-brewed bourbon barrel aged soy sauce made with non-GMO soybeans.

In addition to ramen, a limited selection of seasonal small plates and rice dishes will also be available, as well as a strong tea list including nearly 80 varieties of fair trade, organic and artisan teas.

Tochi’s hours are Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.