Daisuke Utagawa and Katsuya Fukushima went to Japan earlier this year to gather inspiration for the second location of their ramen house, Daikaya. They came back with that and more: a plan to open a third restaurant.
This winter, they and fellow co-owner Yama Jewayni intend to open Bantam King, which will specialize in chicken ramen and Japanese fried chicken. It will be located just around the corner from the original Daikaya in Chinatown; the Shaw location of Daikaya is on track to open in late 2015 or early 2016 as well.
"It's kind of a perfect storm the way it happened," Utagawa said of how the team decided to essentially open two new restaurants at once.
While on the Daikaya scouting trip, he and chef Fukushima encountered "a lot of great chicken ramen," Utagawa said. At the same time, they'd been bandying about what they could do with a former Burger King space on Fifth Street NW that their current landlord had offered them. The plan came together on the fly, and almost before they knew what they'd gotten themselves into, Utagawa and Fukushima were tasting more than a dozen types of noodles, alone and in soup.
Chicken ramen is pretty much what it sounds like. The base is a rich broth formed by boiling chicken meat, bones and even feet. (The broth at Daikaya's ground floor ramen house uses a mix of pork, chicken and beef.) A shorter boil results in a clearer, lighter broth called chintan; longer, and you get a dense, almost milky broth called paitan.
Unlike the many varieties of ramen in Japan that are attached to a specific region, such as Daikaya's Sapporo-style, chicken ramen is not associated with a particular place, said Utagawa, a Japanese native. Chicken ramen is also a more recent phenomenon, he said.
Fukushima said he's still in the recipe development phase, including what kind of chicken to serve on top of the soup. A classic rotisserie is one possibility. Separately, he's working on figuring out the Japanese fried chicken recipe, which will be a riff on a riff -- his take on the Japanese version of the fast food staple that has developed a mass following in the island nation thanks especially to KFC.
The name Bantam King is a small homage to the turn-of-the-century building's previous tenant. (Diminutive bantam, or shamo, chickens have a reputation for making particularly good soup, Utagawa said.) Rather than overhauling the 1,700-square-foot space entirely, Jewayni said the team is working with designer Brian Miller of Streetsense to embrace the former chain restaurant's bones. Expect fast-food-style booths and trays among the details, amid a riot of colors and textures inspired by Japan's eye-catching commercial districts. Bantam King should seat about 50 diners.
In both design and concept, the owners are trying to do something that will distinguish the new venture from Daikaya -- and not steal business from the nearby original.
"We wanted to serve the neighborhood even more, and a little differently," Jewayni said.
Bantam King, 700 Fifth St. NW. Opening winter 2015/2016.