Kintaro Ramen's classic Miso with sliced chicken.
Hawaiian bigeye tuna sashimi.
Some of the menu items now available for delivery from the ghost kitchen.
The coronavirus has introduced plenty of perils to overcome. It sometimes seems like a series of B-rated horror flicks rolling out one after another.
First it was the unknown nature of the disease itself. Then came word that Japanese “murder hornets” had been spotted on the mainland, only to be followed by news of starving “cannibal rats” that are now on the move across America. So when I use the term “ghost restaurant,” I wouldn’t blame you if you fled in terror and went underground for good.
But ghost restaurants are actually good news. Let me explain.
When restaurants were forced to close their dining rooms for weeks and weeks, those with food trucks took to the streets, setting up in various neighborhoods to feed their communities. It also threw a lifeline to struggling restauranteurs as they (sometimes literally) rode out the past couple of months of near complete shutdown.
The concept of a ghost restaurant is new to Fort Worth, but it’s already popular in other parts of the country. Much like food trucks, ghost restaurants allow for a takeout, delivery only model (serviced by DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats and the like), which only requires the commercial kitchen and kitchen staff to succeed.
One new ghost restaurant has just materialized, at 6916 Camp Bowie Boulevard. Kintaro Ramen + Sushi, begins serving luscious bowls of crafty ramen and sushi to the Ridglea area this week. The first location of Kintaro Ramen opened in April in downtown Arlington at 101 E. Abram Street, Suite 130, sans sushi. They are back to 50 percent occupancy for dine-in at that location.
When I first interviewed co-owner Han Le (himself a first-time restauranteur) about the Arlington restaurant, he forgot to mention one minor detail, his chef and business partner has major street cred. Jesus Garcia is the man behind the menu. A man who, in fact, has award-winning credentials to backup his ramen and sushi acumen.
Garcia honed his skills first at Sushi Yoko just off Camp Bowie, then elevated the fare at Little Lilly Sushi in Ridglea Village before launching the wildly successful Oni Ramen with two locations — one in Crockett Row, the other in Dallas’ Deep Ellum. Garcia still retains an ownership percentage of Oni Ramen, which is most famous for its blazing hot ramen called Oni Reaper, with its pop of Carolina Reaper ― one of the hottest peppers on the planet.
Kintaro’s ramen is not a build-your-own ramen bowl you’ll find elsewhere. Instead Garcia offers only three varieties of expertly dressed ramen, with a limited amount of personalized add-ons.
First there is the silky Tonkotsu. This traditional dish is inspired by classic Fukuoka-style pork broths ― cooked for 48 hours to extract all the flavor from the bone, cartilage and marrow. It is topped with garlic puree, Japanese mayu, chashu pork (roasted pork belly), ajitama (sweet soy soaked half-boiled eggs), kikurage mushroom, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), green onion and a shake of sesame furikake.
The classic Miso ramen represents Japan’s northern-most island of Hokkaido, Jesus Garcia tells PaperCity Fort Worth. It is a creamy rendition made from both pork and chicken broth, and garnished with aromatic lard, chashu, muneniku (in this case sliced chicken), ajitama eggs, menma, buttered corn, green onion, sesame furikake and fried garlic.
Lastly, there is the entirely pork-free, Tokyo-style Chintan version, representing the main island of Kyushu. The soy seasoned, clear chicken broth has pepper schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), more muneniku, ajitama, menma, oshitashi (sesame oil seasoned spinach), diced onion, green onion, sesame furikake and fried leeks.
“We decided to take advantage of this available space to launch Kintaro in Fort Worth and begin delivering to customers,” Garcia says. It will ultimately serve as a central kitchen for the restaurant group, as they hope to continue expanding service to other neighborhoods in Tarrant County.
“This kitchen should be able to service four restaurants,” he says. “We had been exploring the idea of a central kitchen as a way to ensure continuity of our product.”
A central kitchen is essential because if the broth and ramen are not perfect it throws the whole dish off.
“This way I can oversee the components, and quality control, so you’ll get the same delicious ramen at both restaurants,” Garcia says.
That’s also the reason why sushi is only available in Ridglea for now. “It will take time finding employees that have the skills to execute sushi to my standards,” Garcia notes.
Three of the signature rolls on the new Kintaro Ramen + Sushi are a nod to the area. Rainbow over Ridglea is a citrus krab, cucumber roll topped with tuna, yellowtail and avocado, while the Lazy Panther features spicy krab, spicy cream cheese in a cucumber roll, coated with crispy panko and a sweet chili reduction.
Garcia has also introduced a new twist to the age-old dish. Pickled and fermented ingredients add an edge to some of his new signature rolls.
“It’s common in Japan to add fermented flavors to sushi, but it’s something new to American cuisine,” Garcia says.
Funkytown’s Finest roll adds pickled okra to the mix, and you’ll find pickled jalapenos on the spicy Demon Slayer.
If all goes as planned, you might see more Kintaro Ramen restaurants and service areas in the future. For now, diners can order for delivery from DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, or choose the pickup option from UberEats if they prefer to pick it up themselves.