Having a group of chefs and waiters yell at you when you walk into a restaurant can be alarming at first. But at Nomiya, a new ramen spot on Magazine Street, the friendly shouts are a greeting, the traditional Japanese way of welcoming customers.
Nomiya is a tiny eatery from Kanno sushi owner Hidetoshi "Elvis" Suzuki and Bayou Hot Wings owner Allen Nguyen, but it's Nguyen's sister Christie Nguyen who runs the show. Tired of her corporate career, Nguyen decided she wanted to get into the restaurant business. An aficionado of Japanese culture, she decided to immerse herself in the world of ramen, traveling to Japan and working stints at New York's acclaimed Ippudo, as well as Momofuku CCDC in Washington, D.C.
Together, Nguyen and her partners opened the jewel box-sized noodle shop in August, creating a playful space decorated with colorful graffiti murals, comic book page-splattered walls, bamboo plants and a row of Japanese lucky cats perched on a top shelf.
Dining here is all about ramen. The small menu features one tonkotsu bone broth, a cloudy, almost milky elixir that is made by boiling pork bones for 24 hours. Here, that broth is creamy, salty and deeply satisfying.
Ramen begins with the tonkotsu broth, and from there it's an add-ins and toppings game, with items ranging from sweet buttered corn to custardy seven-minute eggs, bracing pickled ginger and spongy fish cakes.
The spicy geki-kara version is flavored with pork, egg, scallions and the key ingredient, a dark chili paste made with Asian bhut jolokia, or ghost peppers. On my first visit, I was disappointed that the dish didn't pack enough heat, but the last time I visited, my companion described it as having "the perfect burn," which sums up the tingling sensation left by the crimson broth.
That same chili paste and a dark and earthy burnt garlic oil also can be ordered on the side, which is a good way to manage the nuances of spice and flavor without going overboard.
Sweet braised pork shoulder tops the bowls, which is a slight detour from the more traditional chashu, or belly slices, but it hits the mark just as well (the owners say a salted pork belly addition is in the works).
Pork also fills a pair of steamed buns along with sliced cucumber and a healthy slather of mayonnaise. The other lone menu item is a bowl of yuzu-laced edamame, an addictive treat speckled with large flakes of sea salt.
The dining room is tiny and easily can feel cramped. Diners should be aware that eating here is essentially a communal experience. So get ready to meet your neighbors, and be aware that having a private conversation here is close to impossible.
But in the end, everyone at Nomiya is there for the ramen. Just remember to thank everyone when you leave: "Arigato gozaimasu."