If you love ramen and hate people, be sure to schedule yourself a solo lunch date this Wednesday in Bushwick!
That’s when famed Japanese chain Ichiran opens its first location in the entire Western hemisphere on 374 Johnson St., offering an eating environment that will make hungry introverts of New York rejoice. Described as “low interaction dining,” the restaurant is set up to minimize your dealings with humans every step of the meal.
According to the press release, which is eight pages long and does not skimp on the details (we hope the serving size at the restaurant is as generous), you seat yourself, referencing an electronic seating chart on the wall that lights up to indicate when a table becomes available. Once seated, you fill out a paper menu and then press a button to signal to a server to come and retrieve it. When your food is ready, a human, whose face is obstructed by a bamboo curtain so you only have to see "a section of torso" instead of some mug (because looking at people is the worst, right?), will pass the dish to you across the counter.
Needless to say, it’s a no tipping joint.
Here's where it really gets good: If you so desire, you can eat solo in one of the Flavor Concentration Booths, described as “partitioned counter seating that encourages guests to dine alone and focus solely on the bowl of noodles in front of them.” Based on the photos, they look reminiscent of the library carrel where you might have inked in bubbles on your SAT.
There are some perks. You know how sometimes you finish all your noodles and you still have broth left? At Ichiran, you can order a noodle refill, called a Kae-dama. You're given a metal plate that you're instructed to place on a sensor halfway through finishing your first round of noodles. The sensor then triggers a melody that lets your server know it's time for noodle round two. (Sing for your noodles!)
We should mention that the isolation is optional. If you're feeling friendly, you can eat in the open dining room, where you'll be served by waiters with visible faces at communal tables and stools meant to evoke the atmosphere of what's known as Yatai, traditional street food carts paired with outdoor tables found throughout Japan.
Depending on your perspective, a meal at Ichiran might sound like a mini silent lunch retreat, just the thing you need to break up the work day, space out and nourish yourself with ramen, the most life-giving of foodstuffs. Or, alternately, it might be an unnecessary perpetuation of what New Yorkers experience every day, on the subway, or on a crowded street: that feeling of being surrounded by others, yet isolated.
Maybe it's not just a New York thing; maybe it's a big city thing. According to the press release, the partitioned eating booths are very popular among Tokyo businessmen. They've added the note, "to accommodate an American audience, the partition walls at the Bushwick location can fold in for easier conversation, though it's not recommended." Ha.
As for the food, since this is a restaurant, more than just another gimmick, a la Greenpoint restaurant Eat's silent meals back in 2013: the style of ramen is called tonkotsu, which hails from Fukoaka, Japan and is made with pork bone broth and thin non-curly noodles.
If you go:
374 Johnson Ave.