Since opening in April, Moshi Moshi Bar + Ramen has blown through 500 pounds of pork belly. That doesn’t include the hundreds of pounds of pig heads, femurs, trotters and fatback used for the tonkotsu broth.
“When we started Moshi, I had a metric ton of pork products in the walk-in. The only goal was to open on time and not run out of food. We did both,” said Aaron Grissom, the restaurant’s chef. The other partners are co-owners Buoy Ngov and Yu Nanakornphanom, who own neighboring Indo Asian Street Eatery.
All that food preparation was for one good reason: This was Tacoma’s first dedicated ramen shop and predictably the reaction was overzealous.
Lines pushed out the restaurant's door. Staffers worked double speed to keep pace.
Grissom planned on making all the ramen noodles by hand but delayed that plan because he didn’t have the equipment to keep up. New kitchen equipment arrives this week and handmade noodles will come with it as the crowds taper.
He's found time, though, to hand-make other ingredients many restaurants would outsource. He's turning beer from regional breweries into vinegar. Scuttlebutt beer is currently aging. Engine House No. 9 beer comprised the vinegar he used at the restaurant's opening. A constant supply of salted egg yolks are curing in the walk-in cooler. They make the restaurant’s addictive karaage dipping sauce. Grissom’s live-enzyme shio koji — a flavor mixture made from inoculated rice — is a sort of fun little science experiment alongside house pickles fermenting away in the kitchen.
Those handmade ingredients represent Grissom’s self-stated mission of discovering “complexity hidden in the simplicity” of Japanese cuisine.
While diners will find deep flavors built from scratch, they won’t find a purist’s ethic when it comes to ramen presentation. Both Grissom and Nanakornphanom pay homage to the foundation of traditional recipes, but with flavors and ingredients plucked from different cultures and carrying a Northwest backbone.
The tonkotsu broth, a standard ramen offering, is based on the tonkotsu of the Japanese island of Kyushu, but Grissom broadened the flavor.
“There’s definitely a Northwest feel of what’s going on. Instead of a full pork broth, there’s chicken with a fish base as well. It’s a well-rounded, not overly porky broth. I found in Japan I liked it (the full, pork flavor), but it’s not necessarily agreeable to an American palate,” said Grissom.
The opening menu also includes a spicy miso and vegan broth. Coming soon are more broth styles, said Grissom.
Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Dining room: Tufted banquette seating curves around the front of the long-and-narrow space bookended with an oversized anime-inspired mural spanning the entire back wall. In between are rows of booths with bench seating, telegraphing this is a come-and-go restaurant built for quick slurping. Pretty much every seat yields a view of the bustling on-display kitchen. Open shelving holds jars of fermenting concoctions. A small bar anchors the front window. Seating for 59.
Staff: Alex Henderson is director of operations. Sous chefs are Rob Stewart and Jacob Howell. Janell Spirup is bar manager.
Ramen: Ramen comes in four styles with one flavor always rotating, priced $14.50 to $16, but prices and styles will vary as the menu flips frequently.
Ramen style: Big bowls brimming with ingredients. No piecemeal upcharges for every ingredient here, although extras are available for $1 to $4, if wanted.
More menu: The small plates menu includes bao ($7), plus shareable plates of fried chicken karaage ($10), crispy beef tartare ($11), katsuyaki ($9) and riced cauliflower with bacon ($12).
The yakitori skewer menu includes pork meatball, chicken thigh, pork shoulder and beef ($4 each).
Beverages: Three styles of tea, hojicha, oolong and sencha, served whole leaf in a pot ($5). Short beer list of Sapporo ($4), Rainier ($3) and Asahi draft ($5), plus about a half dozen wines by the bottle or glass ($5 to $9/$21 to $27). Six styles of shochu ($6 to $11), five sakes ($6 to $11), plus five specialty cocktails featuring Japanese whiskey and shochu ($9 to $12)
On a first visit: Pork lovers should veer to the tonkotsu with pork belly ($15). Luscious, milky colored and fat-heavy broth, dotted with black garlic oil, held jiggly wedge after wedge of broadly sliced pork belly marinated in shio koji and fermented shoyu. A soft-boiled egg, marinated in shoyu, mirin, sake and sugar, floated near the surface with bouncy noodles tangled at the bottom. Care was given to layering ingredients in the bowl.
More pork-based broth showed up in the bacon-and-egg ramen, which will exit the menu soon. It held a jiggly poached egg, noodles, bok choy and more pork belly, but this style cured with ginger and lemongrass and smoked over alder ($16).
Spicy pork red miso ramen delivered serious heat from numerous layers of chiles and peppers, including birdseye chili, sansho and jalapeno, and a twist of dried chile pepper threads plopped on top for a final slap of heat. Ground pork and an egg yolk topped the bowl filled with slippery ramen noodles ($14.50).
Vegan mushroom-garlic ramen soared to the top of my vegan must-eat list in Tacoma ($15). Yu choy and a raft of mushrooms floated atop a rich broth kicked up with miso and shio koji, with vegan noodles and burned garlic at the bottom.
Carb avoiders will cheer for the riced cauliflower dressed with an egg yolk (stir it in) and flavored with fermented shoyu and layered with chopped asparagus and edamame. Ginger-spiked bacon threaded the dish along with meaty wild mushrooms and a spring pea puree flavored with yuzu ($12).
Chicken karaage was the best I’ve eaten in Tacoma, with a flavor-spiked coating that made my tongue tingle (like a milder version of chong gin hot chicken at Tacoma Szechuan). I happily dredged the fried chicken through the creamy sauce built from cured egg yolks ($10). House pickles cut the richness and were delicious. Pork and beef yakitori skewers held a whiff of smoke ($4).
Dietary restrictions: Vegetables can stand in for wheat-based ramen noodles for gluten-free diners. Vegan offerings will expand soon.
Coming next: Mushroom bao and black cod with miso and yuzu coming soon. Lunch coming this summer.
Kids welcome: Until 9 p.m.
Moshi Moshi Bar + Ramen
Where: 110 N. Tacoma Ave, Suite B, Tacoma
Hours: Open at 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Closed at 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday with late-night service Thursday-Saturday.