The team that brought vintage cocktails to a former Hartford coffeehouse space is expanding again, this time into Asian cuisine.
Chris Parrott and Patrick Miceli, who introduced Little River Restoratives to the city in November 2015, officially open Bob Ramen next door to the cocktail bar at 399 Capitol Avenue Tuesday, Dec. 13. The 28-seat space, which replaced the former Snack-It Jamaican restaurant, will become a destination for Japanese ramen, dumplings and steamed buns.
Parrott said Bob Ramen came about as a way to fill what he calls a “huge, gaping void” in the region for the noodle soup, built with rich bone broth and complex layers of flavor from vegetables, meat and spices. Ramen has been growing in popularity in Connecticut, but it’s not as readily available in the state as it is in larger cities.
"The more I say it, the less silly it sounds, [but] I think we opened up a ramen shop so we could eat ramen," he said. "The fact that we were falling in love with it and it couldn’t happen without a field trip, made it kind of become imperative… There’s always something fun about being first in the neighborhood, but it really is addressing a food need."
They chose the name "Bob" and its cartoonish tiger mascot as a way to make the restaurant’s name memorable, Parrott said. "Bob Ramen sounds kind of silly, and it makes you think for maybe half a second longer." The tiger is a nod to "blind tiger," a term for a Prohibition-area speakeasy.
Once Parrott and Miceli secured the lease last spring, research and development came next. They made several weekend field trips to taste ramen at top spots in New York and Connecticut, and did a lot of "book learning," Parrott said.
Over the next few months, as they put new cosmetic touches on the space – including posters of artists like David Bowie, T. Rex, Black Sabbath and the Ramones – chef Conor Fallon experimented with ramen recipes next door in Little River’s tiny kitchen.
Bob Ramen’s opening menu will feature three varieties of "Bob Bowls," all priced at $14: classic pork tonkotsu, chicken shiro and miso vegetable. Extra add-ins, including additional noodles, broth and meat; corn, sunflower seeds and chili threads, are $1 to $3 apiece.
Pork gyoza ($8) and steamed buns with crispy pork, pickles, cabbage and spicy mustard ($5) round out the streamlined food options. Guests can pair their plates and bowls with bottled and canned beer, wine or sake.
The menu of bowls may expand in time, Parrott said. "On the weekends we’ll start doing more specials and stuff once we learn recipe by recipe, but for now, we figured we’d tackle the basics."
Parrott expects Bob Ramen to do plenty of lunch business, and plans to target area office buildings with delivery options. The noodle bar will also remain open for late-night visitors.
Though it’s the second ownership opportunity for Parrott, and the third for Miceli (who owns 50 West in Plainville), Parrott said the ramen shop “is more indicative of us trying to get out of our comfort zone.”
“This is all into the great unknown,” he said. “It’s not exhilarating in the same way as opening your first place, but it’s a whole different kind of rush.”
He said he thinks people are curious about ramen, which he called "Japanese soul food." "As much as people talk about it, I feel like it’s still a mysterious thing. So I guess we’re all going to kind of learn about it together.”
Bob Ramen opens Dec. 13 at 11:30 a.m., and will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight. 860-904-5370, facebook.com/bob.ramen399.