The venerable Polish bar in Pittsburgh will close for good after Saturday night after nearly 32 years.
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