Chef Chong Boon Ooi takes ramen very seriously and makes it with joy at this brand-new, tiny Capitol Hill treasure.
Ooink’s logo is a cute cartoon pig happily dreaming of a bowl of ramen. Open for just six weeks, the tiny shop has cream-of-mint walls, yellow metal stools and three tables, which you may be asked to share. It does not have a sign — it’s squirreled away upstairs at Broadway and Pike, next to Marination Station. The menu is limited, at least for now, to gyoza and a half-dozen kinds of ramen. And here you may very well find the best bowl of ramen you’ve ever had.
The chef: The extra “o” in Ooink comes from the surname of chef Chong Boon Ooi. He bops along to the pop soundtrack as he joyously yet meticulously assembles each order, using metal chopsticks to gently, swiftly turn the noodles in the bowl, adding toppings with precision. All his equipment comes from Japan. Noodles are made by gold-standard Sun Noodle, cut to Ooi’s custom specs after much trial and error — not too thick, not too thin, in order to keep their bite for the slower slurpers of Seattle.
Ooi’s ramen expertise comes from Agu Bistro in Hawaii; he laughingly yet seriously calls chef Hisashi Uehara there “my ramen sensei.” He’s also cooked at Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Vegas, with his reverence for French technique originally sparked in Paris while apprenticing at Ze Kitchen Galerie under chef William Ledeuil.
1416 Harvard Ave., (Capitol Hill), Seattle; open 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 206-568-7669, facebook.com/ooinkramen
The ramen: Ooi’s business partner (and wife) Jiaxin Wang says that their spicy kotteri ramen is the most clamored for, made with extra-luscious broth courtesy of se-abura (pork back fat). Two stars means it comes with the house chiles, plenty head-clearing, with a tingle instead of a punch; three gets you fresh Thai ones.
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The miso ramen inspires awe with its delicate richness. Ooi makes the golden-brown broth by soaking kombu, shiitakes and dried Chinese dates for 48 hours, and only boils it very briefly — otherwise, “the umami flavor is finished.” A melting pat of corn butter adds plushness, super-fresh baby bok choy on top make for crunchy bites, and strips of tofu skin are magically silky.
“You have to understand the philosophy — the concept, why you’re doing it this way — to make a good bowl of ramen,” Ooi says. “It’s from my heart.”
The gyoza: The thin, perfectly chewy wrapper is crispy on the bottom, not overstuffed with a mix that’s alive with fresh chive; for dipping, a dab of spicy, citrusy yuzu kosho paste is provided along with vinegar, sesame chili oil and shoyu. They are outstanding.
When to visit: ASAP, but note that Ooink’s only open from 4 to 9 p.m., closed Mondays. Come early; word of extremely happy mouth is already out.
Prices: Kotteri and miso ramen ($12.95 each) plus gyoza ($6) came to $31.90 before tax and tip, enough for two (though you’ll probably want another order of gyoza).