Like any good artist, he knew he had to give it a shot. Therefore, after settling back in his homeland, Hebert would serve his first bowl of goma (sesame-flavored) ramen in 2010, as well as three other styles -- miso, shoyu (soy sauce), and seafood -- at a late-night "pop-up" at his then-two-year-old fine dining restaurant. For the first year or so, the late-night ramen was sporadic; Hebert announced the occasional pop-up on social media. As word spread, he committed to ladling hot soup once a week, but still only late at night, after regular dinner service. He knew he was on to something after catching flak from regular customers about the late-night hours, so in January 2014, Hebert moved "Ramen Night" to its current home, Tuesdays from 5-9pm.
Sensing a viable business opportunity, he began poking around town looking for a permanent spot for a dedicated ramen shop -- he was looking for a needle in a haystack. It needed to be an existing restaurant so entry costs would be minimum. It needed to be small (1,000sqft or less). It needed to be in the right neighborhood, in the right location, with ample lunch and dinner traffic. Still, it could be a risky move to open a stand-alone, 20-seat shop dedicated to ramen. Phoenicians, in general, are partial to well-known chains. Ramen, except among a select group of hardcore, adventurous food lovers, is unfamiliar.
But his efforts should undoubtedly pay off. After all, there's a reason Joshua Hebert is known as the Phoenix Ramen King, even though solid bowls served by others with more direct ties to Japan do exist here in town. One bowl of goma (his signature) is enough to dispel any doubt. Silky, fatty pork broth swirled with delicate dashi and flavored with no small amount of rich sesame paste (imported from Japan) presents a commanding stage for springy, chewy noodles. Crunchy baby bok choy and shishito peppers provide a modicum of sensibility. Julienned leeks, a modest sheet of nori, and smoky katsuobushi (dried, fermented shaved tuna) miraculously waving in adoration atop the hot, steaming broth, gild the crown. An onsen egg is optional, except that it’s not -- for good reason. No one blinks an eye if you collapse in ecstasy after voraciously slurping down an order -- busted, grinning ear-to-ear when the server whisks away the naked bowl.
After two years of searching, and six years after serving his first bowl of ramen at a late-night pop-up, Hebert’s dream of opening a solo noodle shop will soon come to fruition. His descriptively named "Hot Noodles, Cold Sake" will open at the end of July in the Sonoran Village shopping center on the southwest corner of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Loop 101.
Say it with me: long live the King.
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