Fukomoto's Ra Ra Ramen Event FukuNoNo
For the past two months I've been on the Keto diet, which means carbs have been in the culinary jailhouse for me. So when the event ad for the Sazan Craft Ramen event at Fukumoto here in Austin, Texas, featuring Chef Shun of Sazan Ramen, a Michelin Star chef from Japan popped up on Facebook, I immediately bought tickets. This was going to be the "cheat day" I had waited for. I was going to eat ALL the ramen. Hear me roar and load up my chop sticks! Here's a description of the event as stated on Facebook:
"Join us for a special dinner collaboration with Chef Shun of Sazan Ramen and Chef Kazu of Fukumoto on Sunday, December 15. Chef Shun hails from the praised Tsuta Tokyo, the world’s first Michelin starred ramen shop. He then went on to open Tsuta Singapore and Tsuta Hong Kong as head chef before making his way here. Chef Kazu started his sushi career at Musashino and eventually led the establishment as head chef before opening his eponymous Fukumoto. Fukumoto has won numerous awards and was recently awarded the Austin Chronicle’s, Best of Austin. Menu (may differ on day of event) - Oily, smokey oyster, Dr. Pepper kakuni, and savory chips - Yume kimchi - Vegan or Velvet Ramen - Mochi Ice Cream One drink included with meal."
I decided to invite my sister, a ravenous ramen aficionado share in the experience and we were quickly seated at a shared four-top table with two other food bloggers. The event was sold out, and the dining room was almost immediately filled with people at exactly 5pm when the doors flung open.
At first everything seemed like it was going to be a smooth and enjoyable service. Everyone was abuzz about the fact that we had both Chef Shun and Chef Kazu working in tandem in the open kitchen just a few feet away. And then the first course arrived. It consisted of a sauteed oyster smoked in olive oil, Dr. Pepper marinated pork belly, and a crispy kale and burdock chip "salad" with a smoked mushroom. I actually have never eaten an oyster before, but I figured "when in Rome" so started there. The flavor was smokey and sweet, though the texture, as I had been warned, was...an acquired taste. I next tried the pork belly. I've never been a huge fan of pork belly because generally it's simply been prepared in a way that was just purely fat and grease when I have had it in the past. This pork belly, however, was strangely overcooked, dry as a bone, and ice cold. Sure, I suppose the Dr. Pepper gave it some sort of "interesting" sweetness. But it was almost impossible to choke down the coarse, cold meat which obviously had been sitting so long on that skewer that you had to gnaw it off of the stick. We all exchanged curious glances and raised eyebrows and settled in to wait for our next course.
And wait...and wait...and wait... The second course arrived about 30 minutes later. A tablespoon of cold plum kimchi and two small pieces of seaweed paper. Pretty sure it doesn't take a half hour to plate these items, which we devoured in about 15 seconds. The taste was interesting, light and acidic and slightly sweet, but nothing mind-blowingly special. As far as kimchi goes, it was run of the mill, middle of the road.
After that no one came back to check on us for almost an hour. No one asked if we wanted another drink even. Eventually the manager sidled up to our table to thank us for our patience and laugh a little about how "underprepared" they were. Which made me wonder. They had known for a while how many tickets were sold to this event. What happened where the prep wasn't done, the right servers were put in place, etc.? And we continued to wait. When we were just about at the end of that praised patience our ramen finally arrived. The server gave us some story about how it was supposed to be a painting of a cherry tree by at that point my growling stomach really didn't want to hear the long drawn out explanation of why our food was so late.
And cold. The broth, which was gummy and lackluster in taste, was lukewarm. The beautiful soy egg that is usually the star of a good bowl of ramen was ice cold. The pomegranate seeds added nothing because they sank to the bottom. The chicken was baby-food-soft and flavorless. Again, if the broth had been hot then perhaps it would have allowed the chicken to take on more flavor. The errant bitter arugula garnish was pointless and out of place in a Japanese dish. And the noodles. Oh dear. The tragedy of the noodles. Tough and beyond al dente because whatever additional cooking time leant by a hot broth was lost due to the cold nature of the dish. I ate a few bites because I was starving and then pushed it away seriously irritated and depressed.
And we continued to wait. Another 30 minutes for a frozen mochi ice cream the size of a silver dollar to arrive. These might have been made in house, but I've seen these sold at the grocery store. So, after the previous underwhelming dining experience, I wouldn't have put it past them to have bought these from a bakery or store.
I have never been so disappointed in a meal. I've had fast food more enjoyable than this sad excuse for "Michelin Star" level food. It also made me never want to go back to Fukumoto for their regular service. Not because their food might not be good without this "pop up" event in place, but because their service was completely absent. The servers obviously resent all of the patrons there. And the sad thing is that nearly everyone in attendance had the same experience which was obvious because people kept apologizing to us and saying we were among the people being nicer about it. Fukumoto may have just shot themselves in the foot with this event. And as for Chef Shun, I'll never be eating at any of his establishments ever in the future.