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Noodling Around At Artifact’s Pop-Up Ramen Shop

January 14, 2014

IMG_20140110_201259Our experience at Tokifact, the six night pop-up ramen collaboration between DC’s Toki Underground and Bmore’s Woodberry Kitchen-owned Artifact Coffee, shows how badly our city finally needs to suck it up and get a brick and mortar ramen joint. Think I’m dreaming? Just ask the hundred or so people who happily waited in the cold Friday night rain a half hour before Artifact even opened its doors. If you missed it, Tokifact returns this Thursday through Saturday.

A message from an insider sagely advised us to get there no later than 5:45pm (doors open at 6:30, first come first serve). This turned out to be a critical move. There were already eight people in line, and soon the line wrapped all the way down the length of the building. Seeing a mob of desperate noodle junkies standing in the mist, the Artifact staff quickly popped up a couple tents and started serving everyone tea out of paper cups as if this was some sort of foodie tailgate.

When the doors finally opened we entered into a full-on farm-to-dojo ramen party, complete with Christmas lights, Japanese lanterns, and piped in music by hipster darlings Tegan and Sarah, MJ, and Riff Raff. Thank god it wasn’t “oriental flute” junk. Chef/Owners Spike Gjerde and Erik Bruner-Yang were the only two manning the small open kitchen. At the table, an amuse-bouche of pickled daikon with black sesame seeds waited for us next to the individually numbered (and dated) sliver of a menu.

Our noodle hungry group quickly ordered a couple Asahi black lagers ($5), a “pour over” of hot tea and sake ($6), and at the advice of our helpful server, all four of the small plates on the menu.

The Purple Yam Wontons in Broth ($6) were the first to arrive, and as we shared the handmade dumplings there were audible “whoas” after each wonton was gulped down with the miso-based broth. I could have pounded a dozen of those things. The wontons were followed by Winter Root Oshinko (Japanese Pickle) ($3) and Kaki (Oyster) Oshinko ($5) served cold in small glass jars in their juice and, while good on their own, we found them to be an even better palate refresher in the middle of our ramen gorge. The gyoza ($5), handmade Japanese potstickers, was a bit greasy and the most forgettable of the bunch, even with the dried garlic chips thrown in.

5b89aeba7a5c11e39dbc12ccde685f9a_8After muttering a satisfying “sayonara” to our appetizers, three steaming bowls of not-in-college-anymore ramen were put down in front of us and we didn’t waste any time getting down to the slurp. Filled with a deliciously rich (but surprisingly light) and fat-laced smoky broth, thin cuts of ham, a pickled egg, pickled ginger, greens, and spelt noodles (Woodberry’s take on the traditional alkaline noodle), the ramen was all the more satisfying after standing in the cold rain for 45 minutes, but wasn’t without its nit-picks.

While the heartiness of the spelt noodle really held up against the hot broth, it held up almost too much, making it more al dente than melt in your mouth, and not allowing as much of the broth to absorb into it. The ham seemed a bit overcooked, possibly due to the thinness of the cut, and didn’t seem to add much other than an extra protein, and while the pickled egg made for a nice contrast to the richness of the broth we all would have preferred a softer, runnier one. Minor quibbles for an otherwise solid bowl of ramen served by a restaurant that’s only open for 6 nights. That broth though….

It should be noted that there are four add-on options for your ramen: a Stoltzfutz farm egg ($2), smoked rockfish noruto ($4), longanisa sausage ($5), and roasted pork belly ($6). A friend had the egg, which is your best bet if you prefer more run. The longanisa sausage was refreshingly sweet, and while good on its own, didn’t add much to the ramen (taken out of the casing, it could be transformative). Which brings us to the pork belly: order the pork belly, and then order some more to take home for the hangover. Cut thin enough to fully gooey-ize (scientific term) the fat, but thick enough to form an otherworldly crust of cracklings around the skins edge, it’s part melt in your mouth, part crunchy porcine, and all of why I can never be vegetarian.

Our night ended with a couple glasses of carbonated sake ($4), a perfect accompaniment to the two desserts that were shared among the communal table. The Taiwanese shaved ice ($5) was served with preserved peaches and cherries and wasn’t like any shaved ice we’d ever had. More custard than ice, we were told it was frozen and then put through a hand cranked machine to create the sweet and ribbon layered dessert. And while you’d be perfectly content with that choice, you’ll be upset if you miss out on the “oh man” inducing basil ice cream sandwich ($4). A perfect frozen sphere of light green with two small handmade biscuit crackers served on the side, the ice cream wasn’t cloyingly laced with basil, but perfectly subtle in the finish. It was sweet, delicate, and delicious.