Josh Henderson kicked off 2017 by closing the doors of his Bar Noroeste in Amazon's Doppler Building; come mid-February, it will be reborn as Kiki Ramen.
"It was some of the best food we're doing in the company," says Henderson. "The problem is, it's the wrong location."
When Noroeste opened in February 2016, chef Shannon Martincic applied the full force of her impressive resume to coursed menus culminating in build-your-own tacos. What's more, she focused on Northwest ingredients, jettisoning avocados in favor of a guacamole made with eggplant. Guacamole without avocados? People were freaking pissed.
But an unconventional taco repast of beet salsa, lamb neck, crimini mushrooms, frizzled potatoes, and an Oregon-made version of queso fresco? All finished with a housemade chocolate pinata smashed directly on your table? Plenty disagree, but to my mind, Noroeste when it opened was bold and imaginative and unlike anything else in the city. It also butted heads with the neighborhood's prevailing culture of quick-tasty lunches, friendly prices, and accessible happy hours, not to mention expectations that a taco bar means nachos and margs and tacos in baskets of three rather than two-person menu sets.
So Henderson pivoted: "We want to tap into the market that's there, give them something they really want, and at the same time do something we're proud of." In other words, he's opening a ramen shop, complete with $10-$12 bowls, fast lunchtime service, ample potential for delivery, and a bangup happy hour full of okonomiyaki, fried rice, and kimchi arancini.
Kiki Ramen, named in honor of Henderson's girlfriend, Kim, and the many bowls of ramen consumed in their early dating days, will do four or five different broths, including porky tonkotsu, a shio version, and several types of miso broth, including spicy and vegetarian iterations. Henderson's Quality Athletics already does a tonkotsu-esque ramen and makes the noodles in house. Those will pop up in Kiki's tonkotsu; the rest of the bowls will sport noodles from go-to producer Sun Noodle. "It's pretty traditional; we're not trying to be all cheffy about it," says Henderson of Kiki's ramen. His team has spent recent months tweaking recipes, testing, and studying up on ramen technique. "I think we're going to surprise people; I really do."
Noroeste's space is getting a quick refresh; Henderson would love to add weekend karaoke and a more significant spirits program fueled by Japanese whiskey. "But we'll let the neighborhood dictate that."
Meanwhile, Martincic has assumed a culinary curator role within Henderson's Huxley Wallace Collective, offering guidance and inspiration in the restaurant group's various kitchens, taking staff members foraging, and doing whatever else it takes, says Henderson, to reinforce is company's culture after a year of adding restaurants at a dizzying pace. The Huxley Wallace Facebook page seems like a good spot for updates on Kiki Ramen's opening.