Handmade tofu, steaming bowls of ramen, house-made miso and small plates of Japanese nibbles are on the way to Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood.
Moshi Moshi Bar + Ramen expects to open at the end of 2017 or early 2018.
It will be a companion restaurant from husband-and-wife team Buoy Ngov and Yu Nanakornphanom. They own neighboring restaurant Indo Asian Street Eatery at 110 N. Tacoma Ave.
They picked the name Moshi Moshi because of its use as an informal greeting in Japan.
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“We all love Japanese culture. We decided we wanted to do something fun for the neighborhood,” said Nanakornphanom. “We’re going to put a cool bar in and a ramen shop and a lot of small plates.”
The couple is working on the project with longtime Tacoma chef Aaron Grissom, formerly of Dirty Oscar’s Annex. Grissom also was a past contestant on the television show Top Chef.
The Moshi Moshi project has been underway for months, although the lease has just been signed.
They’ve made several changes to the plan. They’re dropping shaved ice from the concept (not enough room), and the two fickle chefs have continuously redrawn the menu (no shock there).
This isn’t the first time Grissom has talked about opening a ramen restaurant. He intended to open one around the same time he started working on the Sawyer Jax project in University Place at the old Keg building. The Sawyer Jax project fell apart after a legal dispute (the building is now slated to be an administrative office for an imaging company). He shelved the ramen idea during that time.
Then Grissom met Nanakornphanom.
Grissom sat down at the Indo bar one day and the two struck up a conversation. Their friendship bloomed during talks about anime and ramen, plus their joint affinity for distilled Japanese spirits. Both chefs say they have compatible palates.
“He came in and I kind of knew him from other people,” said Nanakornphanom. “We’ve never worked together before, but I feel we have this connection. I know what he’s talking about, and he knows what I’m saying.”
Grissom said that he naturally gravitates to Nanakornphanom’s ideas about small, well-composed plates of food, something for which Indo is known (the restaurant’s dumplings are a must try).
They both share a passion for breaking down Japanese food to its barest elements. They plan to make their own miso, tofu and other ingredients that few restaurants here bother to customize.
The design of the restaurant, which will be on the small side with seating for about 60, will draw inspiration from anime and other Japanese pop culture elements.
Grissom just returned from a tour of Japan where he studied tofu making and fish butchering.
Both chefs intend to keep the menu in pace with the season, said Grissom.
“We want it to rotate seasonally. We won’t force ingredients into the dishes,” he said. “We’ll let the seasons bring us the ingredients.”
The small plates side of the menu will be surprising for Tacoma diners, said Grissom.
“We’re going to break the mold of what people think bar food is, but we’ll be approachable at the same time,” he said. “I also want to showcase Pacific Northwest ingredients, but in a Japanese style.”
Sam Kirbawy will be the general manager of Moshi Moshi.
He described the cocktail program as “trying to stay to the Japanese idea of a simple aesthetic.”
Japanese flavors of the cocktails will be uncomplicated. The bar will stock shochu, as well as Japanese whiskeys and a wide range of spirits.
Construction will begin soon.