Wet Noodles

E ven if the notion of ramen already conjures in your mind the real thing—a flavorful bowl of long-simmered broth and fresh ingredients, not a pre-packaged cup of freeze-dried noodles—Kuro Shiro is a pleasant surprise. 

The new Crown Street eatery features a full menu of ramen noodle bowls—hot and cold, meaty and vegetarian—as well as starters, “tapas,” rice dishes and drinks including 12 sake selections to please palates both refined and uninitiated. My daughter and I stopped in at Kuro Shiro for lunch on a Tuesday just after noon and found a crowd of mostly young professionals and students sharing lunch across rustic wooden tables with benches or sitting along a narrow central counter on swivel-topped stools. The proximity to neighbors can be close and lends itself to saying hello.

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Kuro Shiro, the menu explains, means “black” and “white” in the Japanese phonetic lettering system known as hiragana. Wood grain and a soothing dark blue color scheme dominate the decor, but “black” and “white” appear to refer to the difference between other ramen noodle bowls and Kuro Shiro’s: “After spending years to find unique recipes that we can [use to] differentiate ourselves [from] other ramen shops, we came up with the special recipes for our ramen broth,” the menu says, adding a promise of no “concentrated powder or artificial flavors.”

We asked our waitress to serve us some of the most popular menu items, including starters of Oshinko (Japanese pickled vegetables, $3) and Gyoza (steamed pan-fried dumplings—we chose pork, $6). The Oshinko came in a beautiful array of yellow, pink and green—two types of radishes and miniature cucumbers, all of them with a different pickled flavor, from sour to briny to surprisingly sweet. The dumplings, served with soy sauce on the side, were wonderfully delicate, avoiding the doughy thickness of so many restaurant dumplings. Their meaty pork filling had a pleasant, consistent texture, and they were steamed, then finished with a delicious crisp.

For our main dishes, we tried two different ramen bowls. The Shoyu Ramen ($11) with chashu (pork, a main ingredient in all but the vegetarian and vegan ramen dishes), scallion, egg, bamboo shoots and seaweed was served in tonkotsu soup (pork bone broth, though you can also choose tori, or chicken bone broth). It included two generous slices of rolled pork grilled to tenderness and half of a soft-boiled egg with a gooey golden center.

We also tried the Vegan Tantanmen ($12) with soft tofu, cilantro, cashews and la-yu (spicy oil). This was my favorite of the two, with its slightly spicy, nutty flavor; a rich, almost creamy, broth; and big, fresh leaves of cilantro to complement the shredded tofu and bits of cashew. The ramen noodles in the two bowls were slightly different—the Shoyu Ramen’s were thinner and darker—but both were nicely balanced, not too soft, not too chewy.

We sat at the counter next to three students from nearby Gateway Community College, including one named Lily who said she eats at Kuro Shiro about once a week. The lively atmosphere, the friendly waitstaff willing to answer questions and the fact that the food—at least in comparison to other ramen restaurants she’d tried—“stays true to the actual source material” were all reasons she gave for being a regular. Her friend Robert, who had spent three years stationed with the military at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, confirmed that the ramen tasted authentic to him. He identified the broth as “heartier” than he was accustomed to, with a stronger miso flavor, and noted that the pork cuts were “thicker and less fatty.” He offered us some tips on how to eat the elusive ramen with our chopsticks and soup spoons, and the general conclusion was that slurping is allowed. Also, he said, feel free to pick up your bowl and drink the broth that’s left when you’ve finished your noodles. If you finish your noodles, that is. Portions are generous, and takeout containers are available if you want to make more than a meal of it.

We didn’t have big enough appetites to try everything on the Kuro Shiro menu that caught our eyes on this first visit. Lily ordered Steamed Pork Buns ($6) served on a sticky sweet roll, which, along with the Spicy Miso Ramen ($13), she recommended as one of her personal favorites. In warmer weather (May through September), Kuro Shiro also offers six Cold Ramen menu items ($12-14). Year ’round the menu serves up five rice dishes ($6-7), nine tapas including two vegetarian options ($5-8) and 11 different starters, the majority of them vegetarian ($3-6), making Kuro Shiro a great new option for vegetarian diners, despite the fact that some of its main imagery features both a chicken and a pig.

You won’t see them on Kuro Shiro’s unassuming exterior. It would be easy to pass right by and miss it—and miss out.

Kuro Shiro
128 Crown St, New Haven (map)
Daily noon-10pm
(475) 234-5568
www.facebook.com/ramenkuroshiroct

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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