Gables Japanese Spot Ichimi Improves Daily

The chestnut broth in Ichimi's baby-back rib ramen is the distillation of a life's worth of delicious steaks in a bowl. This is no slick, salty miso concoction or a tacky, fatty tonkotsu. It's something different. This is a beef-neck-based broth that fills your senses like the aroma of meat cooked over an open flame.

For this, you can thank the 3-month-old Coral Gables restaurant's chef, Cosme Sanchez. He took over only a few weeks ago, brought on by the eatery's 22-year-old owner, Peihao Xu, and turned around a place that was in disarray. During a visit this past March, a number of ramen, including tsukemen, in which noodles are served separately and dipped into a pungent broth, were unavailable, and others were uninspiring. What noodles were on hand were thin and mushy. This was particularly disconcerting because Xu dropped a hefty sum on a noodle machine that can crank out up to 200 portions of ramen per hour.

The menu for this iron-and-raw-wood-covered space that formerly housed Alberto Cabrera's Bread + Butter has been tightened and refined. The noodles are thicker and sturdier, and they arrive with a springy texture. The rich tonkotsu broth is fortified with pork bones boiled into submission and filled out with plump ribs marinated overnight in a mix of dark soy, garlic, and ginger.

Chef Cosme Sanchez
Chef Cosme Sanchez

What's better is that Ichimi, Japanese for "dedicated to," adds a new dimension to Miami's complement of the iconic Japanese soup. For years, satisfying versions of it have been available across the city at Bal Harbour's Makoto, North Miami Beach's Yakko-San, and Coral Gables' Su-Shin Izakaya. In 2012, restaurateur Jeffrey Z. Chen opened Brickell's Momi Ramen. It was the city's first eatery dedicated solely to the soup.

Ramen obsessives began nurturing the hope that Momi would usher in a wave of similarly styled spots. Soon they'd be able to dine on everything from miso ramen, which hails from the city of Sapporo in Japan's far north, to the chicken-vegetable-seafood ramen called Kagoshima from the south.

Though things didn't pan out that way, Ichimi is a flash of hope for those dismayed by the way burgers and doughnuts have overtaken noodles.

Beef neck gyoza
Beef neck gyoza

What's more, the menu isn't limited to hot soups. A knot of those noodles also comes chilled, gently washed in soy sauce, and twisted up with a hefty portion of sea urchin and bright-orange salmon roe. Drizzle it with chili oil and toss it with scallion hoops and nori powder to add a bit of brightness. A dish called tonkotsu demi deploys a severely reduced pork broth as a near-glaze. It acts as both a fatty lubricant for the noodles and a way for the balancing bean sprouts to cling to each bite.

While Sanchez has refined the ramen section, he has also severely curtailed the restaurant's izakaya offerings. The so-called uni taco that the restaurant opened with and has become signature has been preserved. It's a two-biter seemingly made for Instagram: an emerald of a nasturtium leaf is tempura-battered and fried into a gossamer shell. On it goes a magenta smear of chopped, raw Wagyu beef, followed by two lobes of pumpkin-orange sea urchin roe. A bright, intensely minty shiso foam lashes together all of the rich accoutrements. Though other choices seem less ambitious (crabcakes, for example), it's for the better.

The most desirable plates can be found in a "Daily Specials" section on a chalkboard that hangs on a subway-tile wall near the open kitchen. Recently, beef neck gyoza was there, and the tender, burnished wrappers burst with the ultra-rich filling.

Uni and roe summer ramen
Uni and roe summer ramen

Sanchez also seems to have a penchant for repurposing his broths' ingredients. He cleverly turns the refuse of tonkotsu into a hog's head appetizer. After he boils off the broth, the cheeks, ears, and snout are rubbed with a combination of numbing Sichuan peppercorns, nori powder, salt, and sugar. The mixture is rolled, trussed into a cylinder, and cooked sous vide for nearly 24 hours. The result is headcheese, filled with luscious bits of fat and meat, all lined with savory, softened layers of connective tissue. It's sliced thin, fanned onto a plate, drizzled with sesame oil, and presented with pickled daikon and a biting pepper salad.

Sanchez's way of making a dish from the same head that fortified his broth is what makes Ichimi great. Ramen is a trend food, ready-made for obsessives and their social media. But ramen is also the product of obsessives. Only an obsessive would think to make a broth by boiling bones for 24 hours. Only a borderline-neurotic would spend countless hours tinkering with the alkaline salts and sodium bicarbonates that give the best ramen noodles their trademark bounciness. But that's what makes you crave some bowls of ramen and forget others in less time than it takes to eat them.

Ichimi
2330 Salzedo St., Coral Gables; 305-960-7016. Daily noon to midnight

  • Hog's head $9
  • Beef neck gyoza $12
  • Uni taco $14
  • Baby-back rib ramen $26
  • Uni and roe ramen $36
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Ichimi Ramen

2330 Salzedo St.
Coral Gables, FL 33134

305-960-7016

www.facebook.com/ichimiramen


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