So I was perhaps unreasonably excited about Strings Ramen in Chinatown, which opened earlier this month with a relatively focused menu of four ramen styles, a few rice bowls, some sides, and oden, the winter snack made of various skewered bits of fish cakes, sausage, boiled eggs, and other things, bathing in a slow-simmering dashi broth. More on that later.
Strings has behind it peripatetic Chinatown restaurant designer and occasional chef Kee Chan (last seen at Lure Izakaya) and a few other lesser-known principals like American-born chef de cuisine Matt Nakano.
What's most remarkable about Strings are the noodles, which, unlike those at most spots in town, are made fresh daily with an imported Japanese mixer and noodle maker. They are thin, firm, and have a fresh, almost floury taste that stands up well in any broth you choose. These include a turkey-and-salt-based shio ramen with pickled ginger, fish cake, and boiled egg; a light, clear, soy-based shoyu ramen with added smokiness from bonito; a miso-and-pork-based broth with corn, garlic, sesame, and white pepper; and, finally, the big daddy, tonkotsu, made with a 48-hour Kurobuta (aka Berkshire) pork-bone boil.
The latter two broths are nearly indistinguishable. They're both pleasingly sticky with rendered collagen and just a hint of animal funk—the miso ramen perhaps a bit more so—and both offer the chance to upgrade the pork quotient with pieces of grilled Kurobuta chashu. Yet despite that 48-hour bone bath, the broth in each is surprisingly flat, missing depth and body. This is a noble effort, but it's lacking the character even of Wicker Park's Oiistar, where the depthless broth is ruined by overseasoning.