Sometimes you just need some “me time,” and Japanese ramen chain Ichiran is promising diners just that with its first American outpost in Brooklyn, New York.
Ichiran, an omnipresent brand in Japan, opened its first location in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood in October (it tried and failed to open one in the Greenpoint neighborhood seven years ago, reports Eater), and the lines around the block showed that foodies in New York were eager to try the ramen -- either in isolation or with friends.
The Bushwick outpost, like its Japanese counterparts, offers customers the option of sitting at tables with friends or in “flavor concentration booths” where they can eat in private.
Brian MacDuckston, who runs the blog RamenAdventures.com from Tokyo, said he has visited approximately 1,300 different ramen shops and the “concentration booth” is an Ichiran trademark. He says Ichiran is particularly popular with tourists.
“There are a few ramen shops out there where the masters want you to come and enjoy your bowl at the maximum level of enjoyment, so you’re really not supposed to talk -- a few places have strict rules about photography, talking, cell phones. It’s not that the chefs are trying to keep it a secret. They want everyone to focus on their ramen and enjoy it to the maximum level,” he explained. “So Ichiran was sort of the same concept -- let’s make these booths so you focus on the bowl.”
Justina England, who works front of house at the restaurant, said it has approximately 30 booths and 26 two-person tables. She said both options are very popular -- hundreds waited in line during the restaurant’s first few days, and now the wait can be about 45 minutes during peak hours.
MacDuckston said the ramen experience in the U.S. is completely different than in Japan.
“When I’ve gone to Ichiran, I’ve been in a group of five, and we take up five booths,” he said. “You don’t go to ramen shops to ‘dine’ -- you go there with your friends, sure, but you don’t sit down and take time. You go in, you eat and you get out.”
England said customers enjoy the concentration booths: “Everyone loves it. There are a few who would have preferred being at a table, but usually people love it.”