On paper, at least, these two wouldn’t seem to go together.
The chef whose Italian artisan pizza and pasta restaurant was on this strand ages before the neighborhood had reached peak-coolness, and the chef whose Japanese izakaya-style gastropub has been the hottest spot in the neighborhood this year, teaming up to make … ramen?
But noodles and the cultures that embrace them are the ties that bind the cuisines of Domenic Branduzzi of Piccolo Forno and Roger Li of Umami (in addition to a deep friendship). The pair opened the doors on their more-than-a-year-in-the-making collaboration, Ki Ramen, Wednesday afternoon for a much awaited, jam-packed soft opening, piqued by numerous pop-up events since 2016.
A former office space has been converted into a bar and restaurant with a hip-hop heavy playlist, spread over three levels at the corner of 44th and Butler streets. It’s decorated with graffiti art, including the restaurant’s slogan, “Soul in a Bowl.” Floor to ceiling windows offer a people-watching fishbowl of Butler Street, and Styrofoam Nissin Cup Noodles containers hold the chopsticks on each table.
“I think it’s a good parallel between the Italian and the Japanese,” Mr. Branduzzi said. “The noodles of course, are just like pasta, and in this case the broth is hearty and a soulful element instead of the rich sauce that goes on pasta.
Wednesday night offered snacks of cavolfiore (fried cauliflower) and piquant pickled Rayu cucumbers (both $4).
The mains were a vegetarian curry ramen ($11) with tamarind, scallion, coconut milk, cabbage, bean sprouts, cauliflower and miso; and a shoyu ramen, with tender soy braised chicken, charred bean sprouts, scallion and a soft Japanese-style Onsen egg cooked in a sous vide preparation ($12).
In both instances, the interplay of Mr. Li’s command of Asian flavors and technique Mr. Branduzzi’s exceptional noodles melded to delicious effect.
Hustling in the kitchen Mr. Li had to take a moment to catch his breath — an apt metaphor, as he’d opened Umami one year and two days prior.
“He likes to average one a year,” Mr. Branduzzi laughed.
The soft opening will continue through the weekend, each day featuring a limited mix of snacks and ramen from the full menu, which will go into effect next week.
Ki Ramen: 4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville; http://kiramenpgh.com/
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs2312