Il Lazzarone pizzeria chef-owner Erik Borger announced in fall 2015 that he would open Komatsu Ramen, a large-scale ramen restaurant.
The announcement further confirmed that ramen would be a prominent fixture this year in Kansas City’s culinary repertoire, joining the ranks of Columbus Park Ramen Shop and the upcoming Shio Noodle. Borger enlisted chef Joe West, formerly of Bluestem and currently of the Asian-influenced pop-up, Kusshi, to help bring Komatsu Ramen to life in mid-2016.
Borger opened Il Lazzarone’s first location in St. Joseph, Missouri, in May 2014, which quickly drew a devout following for its authentic Neapolitan pizza. Less than a year later, Kansas City-area diners could grab their favorite pizza an hour closer to home after a second location opened in River Market.
“After Il Lazzarone-River Market was established and ran smoothly enough for me to work fewer than 100 hours per week, I began to plan my dreams of ramen,” Borger says. His exploration began with research.
“I am inspired by culture and history,” Borger says. “Many ramen chefs have their own style and influence. My influence in cuisine is typically to preserve and represent a historical dish or food item that has been overmanipulated or lost throughout history.”
Komatsu’s dining room will be three times larger than the size of Il Lazzarone in River Market. Depending on the occupancy permit, the Westport restaurant could potentially reach more than 400 guests at a time within its 8,000 square feet. Borger remains undaunted by the ambitious size and seating capacity. Ramen shops tend to be compact in cities such as Tokyo, where space is at a premium and competition is abundant. Kansas City’s first ramen restaurant, Columbus Park Ramen Shop, takes up just 350 square feet.
“I have a tendency to try and outdo myself,” Borger says. “I have a feeling it will be the largest ramen shop in the world, as far as I know. The kitchen [alone] is almost as big as our St. Joseph restaurant.”
In pursuit of authenticity, Komatsu will use custom noodles sourced from Sun Noodle Brand made with hard wheat flour – similar to the flour used by ramen noodle-makers in Japan – sourced from mills around the world, rather than softer American wheat flour. The ash quantity, pH level and other factors produce a superior noodle, according to Borger. Sun executives flew to Kansas City to meet with him to gather his input on noodle type, density, chew factor and desired elasticity to fine-tune the noodle that Komatsu will serve.
“For instance, Sun’s Hakata noodle is a bit smaller than I would like,” Borger says. “I would also prefer it a bit firmer. Sun will design that to my specifications. Some of their other options are a little too egg-y for me, as well, so we are working on that. When we open, we will have a 100-percent unique noodle recipe, guaranteeing us the freshest, most authentic noodle we can provide.”
Komatsu will serve ramen with chicken, pork and vegetable broth with various moto dare, the sauce that creates the broth’s flavor base, including finished bowls of light and savory shoyu ramen with pork belly.
“Expect small, shareable appetizers that will be outstanding on their own but won’t steal the show from the ramen,” says West. “[Borger] has a list of menu items that he has envisioned. My job is to figure out how to execute these dishes at a high level of quality and efficiency. I’ll figure out how we can make the best chawanmushi – a savory egg custard – raw yellowfin tuna crudo, pork buns and an oyster trio that fit in our price range, along with providing amazing ingredients and high-quality execution in a fast manner.”
For the drink menu, Borger is importing a long list of sakes and specialty beverages, like puffed rice, buckwheat and bottled teas, Japanese soft drinks and spirits.
He’s in no hurry to open, though. “It has to be done right and challenge people’s perspectives on design as well as taste,” he says. “When designing this restaurant and the menu, I sought to create a sensory experience. From ultramodern Japanese architecture to precisely plated uni and caviar, Komatsu is sure to bring the utmost comfort and culinary pleasures to the ‘everyman’ with its affordable price point and unpretentious dining service.”
Komatsu Ramen, 3951 Broadway Road, Westport, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.599.6263, facebook.com/komatsuramen