Hidden on a Brickell side street dotted with construction barricades and shadowed by a rumbling Metromover line, Momi ramen house beckons like a tiny Japanese lantern amid the high-rise condos.
Through the clear panel separating the kitchen from the 20-seat dining room, chef-owner Jeffrey Z. Chen can be seen laboring over steaming pots of flavorful broth, a stack of daikon radishes in the window.
A communal wooden table commands the center of the small dining room, with a few two-seaters and a counter at the window rounding out the seating. Sake bottles line two low shelves around the boxy room, glistening in the light of suspended Edison bulbs. Efficient, friendly waitresses in wellies and mini-skirts whisk out seriously good ramen bowls, rapid-fire.
With the exception of a couple we observed trying to have an Eat Drink Man Woman moment holding hands over a plate of bone marrow, most diners get the message: This is no place to linger. Sit, slurp and skedaddle. There is likely to be a line of others waiting hungrily at the door, eyeing your seat.
Raised in Hong Kong, Chen, 49, worked at ramen houses in Japan for more than 10 years before he decided to open his first restaurant in Miami in late November. Since then, his textured, fresh noodles, made several times daily in an in-house press, have been drawing crowds.
Just as tantalizing are his silky soup bases, one made with pork femur bone and marrow (tonkotsu), the other with nutty natto miso (fermented soybean). Chen simmers the pork broth for 22 hours before draining the liquid through cheesecloth, leaving the fatty residue behind.
The subtle flavor in these hearty, healthy dishes may at first strike over-salted and sauced Americans as bland. But there is nothing mild about the seven ramen bowls and six sides on the simple menu.
The smoky-sweet oxtail ramen with chunks of braised meat is a standout. The pork belly ramen is a close second, with broth and noodles topped by slices of pork, chopped green onions, bamboo shoots and a soft-boiled egg.
The care and ingredients in these bowls and others — earthy Nameko mushrooms, pickled mustard greens (takana), cross-cut marrow bones — are rare in Miami.
Apparently, we’re game. Chen ran out of food only three days after opening, and had to shut down to restock, said Mei Yu, a close friend who runs the Miami dim sum institution Tropical Chinese.
Although the plans are to operate around the clock daily, the restaurant is now closed on Mondays. Other nights, Momi is open until 2 a.m., which is destined to make ramen the new hangover cure for the late-night Brickell bar crowd.
The media-shy Chen, who declined to be photographed, has succeeded thus far on word-of-mouth. His ramen bowls are relatively pricey (although big enough for two), and nobody answers the restaurant’s phone. Reservations aren’t allowed, and diners may have to circle the block searching for parking. But it would be a mistake to let that stop you.