The Triangle finally got a dedicated ramen parlor. Dashi on 415 East Chapel Hill Street in Durham opened in last year to high anticipation after Billy and Kelli Cotter (Durham’s Toast) and Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and Rochelle Johnson (The Cookery) held several ramen pop-ups before deciding to open the two-level ramen shop and izakaya bar in the Bull City.
The noodle cognoscenti skewered the ramen at Dashi in its infancy on review sites like Yelp citing high prices and bland broth that lacked depth. As a lifelong noodle lover and one who was practically weaned on the stuff, I wanted to wait several months to give the eatery a fair shot.
On the late Friday evening last June, my dining partner and I tried the parlor out and ordered two bowls of ramen—shoyu (soy sauce broth) and tonkotsu (pork bones broth). Ramen parlors in Japan will often specialize in one type of ramen such as tsukemen depending on region, but Dashi’s ramen menu offers a range of broth choices including the accepted four major varieties (shio, shoyu, miso and tonkotsu) and a vegetarian, chuka soba and mazemen option.
The shoyu bowl, with its $13 price tag, came nicely adorned, outfitted with premium toppings that included a nice disc of NC catfish kamaboko, a heap of smoked and shredded local pork and hakurei turnips. If you’re slightly sadistic, you might pierce the soy-soaked soft-boiled egg with your chopsticks and let the amber yolk ooze out into the broth like I did that night.
Once you hover over the steaming hot bowl for your gratis sauna treatment, you’ll clearly see a methodically composed dish. Dig inside with the chopsticks and you’ll find a mound of chewy alkaline noodles sunken in the middle with a decent bounce. Use the awful squarish-shaped spoon that they give you to ladle the shoyu broth and you might find your heart flutter into atrial fibrillation. The broth was salty, like overly salty. So much so that I had to regretfully abandon broth ship after slurping only half the content. Unfortunately, due to the tare and salinity of the broth, I felt that the harmony of the bowl was unbalanced and subsequently lacked a refinement that every bowl of ramen needs. My dining partner’s bowl of tonkotsu($14), with an accoutrement of roasted Kuorbuta pork belly and bean sprouts did not suffer the same fate. His bowl of unctuous broth displayed a milky, creaminess that revealed, upon tasting, a pleasing depth of flavor emanating from the boiled pork bones.
A photo posted by Dashi (@dashiramen) on
What actually stuck out to me that night at Dashi was the state of ennui surrounding the open kitchen as the chefs and cooks assembled the bowls of ramen as the tickets rolled in. Missing was the palpable, chaotic energy at ramen shops that I’ve personally witnessed at places like Totto Ramen or Ippudo in New York City. Perhaps it was an off-night or too close to closing time, but the whole insipid ambiance, despite its chic and stream-lined urban aesthetic, left me with an empty feeling—and not because I wasn’t full from the ample portion of ramen. Our mistake, maybe, was that we missed out on the izakaya bar upstairs that’s open late night until 1 a.m., where the energy may be more unbridled. In fact, looking back on that night, the thing that left the most indelible impression was the dessert, two scoops of a piquant chili-lemongrass sorbet from the nearby ice cream shop, The Parlour.
For those less initiated into the wide world of ramen that doesn’t come with out of plastic wrapper, the ramen at Dashi will be just fine and might even far surpass expectations. For the ramen erudite with more experience, and spoiled by the breadth of choices in bigger cities, Dashi will do enough to quell the ramen cravings.
Dashi | 415 E. Chapel Hill Street Durham NC 27701 |
| Ramen shop: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. |
| Izakaya: 5 p.m. to midnight Mon. to Thurs; 5 p.m. to 1 p.m. Fri. and Sat. |
No reservations | Closed Sundays