More ramen is on the way to the East Side. Yokohama is preparing for a mid-May opening at 1932 E. Kenilworth Pl. in the former home of Yield Bar.
And Yokohama aims to be not only a destination for ramen, but also a place where guests can experience a bit of Japanese culture.
The restaurant itself will feature two levels. On the first, there will be a small 12-seat bar where guests can order beer, wine, sake or craft cocktails. But there will also be a stage which accommodates non-stop karaoke, as well as a dining area with a sliding door that can be closed off for private events. On the upper level, there will be a larger dining area, which will seat about 60, along with a ramen bar where guests can enjoy their bowl of ramen as they might in Japan.
In good summer form, there will also be a 20-seat parklet where diners can enjoy their ramen al fresco.
Ramen will be the mainstay at the restaurant, and will include traditional shio, shoyu and tonkotsu varieties, along with a vegetarian ramen. There will also be tsukemen ramen, a Japanese variation on ramen where noodles are served separately with a bowl of flavorful broth for dipping.
A spicy ramen, Momofuker, will feature chicken stock, red miso, kimchi, nori and ajitama (egg) and will be served as hot as you can handle it.
In addition to ramen, there will be appetizers like edamame and lotus root chips, along with pork belly, chicken and vegetarian steamed buns. Burgers will be served up on house-made ramen buns. There will be also be foie gras stuffed chicken wings and Korean-style wings tossed with sweet or spicy soy dipping sauce.
From Japan to Milwaukee
Yokohama is owned and operated by Stand Eat Drink Hospitality, the owners of Bodegon, Hotel Madrid, Jake’s Deli and Movida. It’s a given that owners Aaron Gersonde and Andrei Mikhail have a knack for delivering experiences steeped in Spanish food and culture. But they’ve also done their homework in preparation for bringing the Yokohama concept to Milwaukee. And that homework included a trip to Japan.
During his trip to Japan, Mikhail made the pilgrimage to Yokohama, a city often credited with being the location of the first Japanese ramen shop in 1910. While there, he visited the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum and the Cup-Noodles Museum. He also spent a solid 10 days eating ramen for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a late-night snack.
Mikhail says the trip reflects one of the main goals for Stand Eat Drink restaurants: to offer guests an experience that either conjures beloved memories of places guests have traveled or creates a picture of places they’d like to go.
"For me," he says. "Japan was that sort of place. And after visiting, there were a million reasons I wanted to bring that back to Milwaukee."
Mikhail says noodles were the root of his interest.
"On the culinary side, I’ve always been a fan of pasta," he says. "And as I got more and more into ramen, I found myself really obsessed with how the alkaline noodle acts and reacts, and how it responds to different treatments. It’s everything from the yellow color of the noodles to its texture and flavor."
Ramen and more ramen
During his trip, he ate plenty of noodles. He visited Taishoken in the Shibuya-ku district of Tokyo. It's a restaurant where Kazuo Yamagishi, often called "The God of Ramen," invented an entirely new genre of the popular broth and noodle dish. Unlike its counterparts, tsukemen features (typically) cold noodles, which are dipped into highly flavored hot broth that Yamagishi augments with both sugar and vinegar.
"The story is that he would make it for himself to eat while he was working," notes Mikhail. "And after a while, the people who came to the restaurant urged him to put it on the menu."
"Another cool place," he goes on, "Was Rokurinsha. It’s in the Tokyo train station, and they only serve tsukemen. There’s always a massive line there for lunch. So, I went there for breakfast one day. And I had the best bowl of ramen in my life there. It was a seafood broth served with soba noodles that were just so flavorful when dipped in the broth. It was amazing."
While he was in Tokyo, he also ate some of the spiciest ramen he’s ever had at Kinkanbo, a restaurant which means "ogre’s iron club."
"They’re known for having the spiciest ramen in Tokyo," says Mikhail. "And you’ve got to understand ... it’s hot and humid in Tokyo. And you go into these ramen shops, which have like 14 or 15 seats. And if it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s like 120 inside. So, I order my spicy ramen, and I’m sitting there sweating bullets."
The experience was the inspiration behind Yokohama’s Momofuker ramen, which might just have you sweating bullets if you order it spicy enough.
Another bucket list shop he visited was Tsuta, a nine-seat ramen shop in the unassuming Sugamo neighborhood of Tokyo that’s become so popular they’ve implemented a ticketing system to accommodate seating for guests.
"Up until 2017, it was the only Michelin Star rated ramen restaurant in the world," he says. "It’s on this small street. And you have to go in the morning and line up to buy your ticket and then come back later to eat your ramen. It was crazy. And it was delicious."
Lost in karaoke-ville
Amid all the ramen-eating, Mikhail also managed to get lost in the middle of Tokyo, an experience which proved to be a happy accident.
"I’m walking around and trying to situate myself," he says, "And I found myself in front of a karaoke bar … And when I say karaoke bar, I mean a tower that goes up like five floors. And I look and I see like 20 white business executive shirts looking out the window. And there are all these flashing disco lights behind them. They’re looking at me, and I’m looking at them. And they’re pounding on the windows like they’re having so much fun."
As it turns out, Mikhail had stumbled upon Karaoke Kan, the famed location for Bill Murray's singing session in the movie "Lost in Translation."
"That’s when we decided karaoke needed to be part of the concept," he noted with a chuckle.
Once open, Yokohama will serve up ramen and karaoke seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., with a distinct lunch menu, dinner menu and late night menu after 10 p.m.
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.