by Jacob Dean, special to EdibleDC and photos by Jai Williams
When Mess Hall (703 Edgewood Street NE) opened its doors for the second annual occurrence of Ramen World, it was more than an opportunity for people to gorge themselves on unlimited food, Japanese Kirin Lager and mixed drinks. The Asian-themed bacchanalian celebration of snappy noodles and hot soup also featured foods from Laos, Burma and the Philippines, and offered a rare chance to get a broad sense of what various chefs have been up to.
Take the folks from Daikaya for example. Co-owner and head chef Katsuya Fukushima could be seen cooking and keeping a watchful eye over Bantam King’s booth. The latest venture from Fukushima and partners Daisuke Utagawa and Yama Jewayni, Bantam King will be serving chicken-based ramen and Japanese fried chicken in the bones of a former Burger King in Penn Quarter. At their Ramen World premier they served a thick and fragrant chicken ramen topped with “chicken succotash” which was tender and savory.
Fukushima, who works hard and is exceptionally observant, could be seen trying to gauge the reaction of his customers from behind the counter. The ramen was good (really good in fact), and a strong departure from what’s currently found on menus across the city.
It’s also not for those who don't like chicken.
When the very first customers in line informed Fukushima that, unfortunately, they didn’t eat chicken, he looked at them with a combination of consternation and incredulity. While Bantam King rushed to figure out what to serve them and ultimately did produce something that they seemed satisfied with, it’s a chicken-themed restaurant and they’re not magicians. If you don’t like chicken, consider going elsewhere for dinner.
Another standout was Toli Moli, a Burmese dessert shop from chef Jocelyn Law-Yone. Law-Yone, who prefers to be called Chef JoJo grew up in Rangoon, Burma, and her signature dish is a layered dessert drink called falooda.
The Royal Falooda, which Toli Moli says is an update of a classic recipe, was made from sweet rice noodle pudding, firm cubes of pomegranate-ginger jelly, basil seeds, almond milk, and vanilla ice cream. It’s a texture-laden filling treat, and definitely worth a try for those looking for something outside the realm of sticky rice.
Toli Moli will also be popping up on March 29th at Thip Khao, D.C.’s increasingly famous Laotian restaurant which is helmed by chef Seng Luangrath and her son chef Bobby Pradachith. Thip Khao, who was also present for Ramen World, used the day as an opportunity to serve a dish that is currently a menu special: sun dried pork (think sumptuous strips of tender pork with a sweet glaze), coconut rice, and a charred tomato dipping sauce.
By the end of Ramen World there were almost too many dishes and restaurants to adequately describe. Donburi, the Adams Morgan Japanese rice bowl shop owned and run by chef James Jang, premiered its food truck and served Japanese curry with panko-coated pork and shrimp. The Mount Pleasant Filipino restaurant, Purple Patch, also made an appearance, as did Pho Wheels and ramen shops Yona, Toki Underground and Chaplin’s. Sno Cream provided additional desserts and mixed drinks were provided by True Syrups and Garnishes and Traveling Sideshow Cocktails.
Jacob Dean is a freelance food and travel writer, recipe tester, and product reviewer who resides in Washington DC. He is an Associate Editor at The Cook’s Cook, a staff writer at DCist, has freelanced as a recipe tester for the NY Times, and has been published by the Washington Post and Roads and Kingdoms.