With the opening of Dashi on Chapel Hill Street, foodies have yet another reason to include downtown Durham in their itineraries.
Make that two reasons.
On the ground floor is a traditional ramen shop with an open kitchen where patrons can watch the noodles being made by hand. Half a dozen variations on the ramen theme are offered, from Vegetarian (roasted shiitake mushrooms, mustard greens, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, scallion and nori) to Tonkatsu (roasted Kurobuta pork belly, black kale, wood ear mushrooms, pickled ginger and scallion in a rich broth made by simmering pork bones for ten hours or more). Gluten-free noodles, not cooked in the same broth as the noodles that contain gluten, are also available.
Upstairs, an izakaya (think gastropub, Japanese style) will offer a varied assortment of small plates, including an entire section devoted to yakimono, bite-size grilled meats that are popular in Japan but until now practically impossible to come by in these parts. Other small plate temptations cover the spectrum from smoked octopus and kombu salad to spicy miso chicken wings.
The bar, whose libations are available upstairs and down, offers what is surely the area’s premier sake selection, as well as a thoughtfully curated wine list, craft cocktails and beers — including a Japanese style beer custom-brewed for the restaurant by local brewer Ponysaurus.
Dashi (415 E. Chapel Hill St., Durham; 919-251-9335; dashiramen.com) is owned by Rochelle Johnson and Nick Hawthorne-Johnson, who operate the business incubator and pop-up venue The Cookery, and Billy and Kelli Cotter, owners of the popular sandwich shop Toast. The ramen shop serves lunch and dinner, Monday-Saturday. The upstairs izakaya is opening in the evenings only, with food being served until 10:30 p.m. and the bar staying open until 2 a.m.