This is what the outside of Chuko looked like at 6:45 PM yesterday. Not dark, not cold, not windy. It was light, bright, blue skies at a quarter to 7. I’ve been wanting to visit Chuko since it opened back in August, a couple months after I moved to the neighborhood, and not a moment too soon. Just as I was missing my old haunts in Williamsburg and complaining there was no good food in these parts (I know, I know, I was naive), I read about Chuko. Brought to us courtesy of two Morimoto alums, Jamison Blankenship and David Koon, Chuko serves up bowls of housemade ramen in miso and soy broths, with or without meat. Housed in the former Nick’s Diner space, Chuko, meaning “second hand” in Japanese, was refurbished with a long wooden bar, and shows off an original hundred-year-old brick wall.
I’m a little behind schedule because it’s taken me seven months to visit this place on Vanderbilt Ave., a ten-minute walk from my apartment. So with the sun refusing to set on the early spring evening, I made my way across Atlantic Avenue, the new Nets Stadium casting shadows to the west, church and state mingling to the east (below).
I was meeting my regular Sunday-night partner, Karen, for steaming bowls of soup and whatever sides might entice. It was early enough that the place was pleasantly crowded with families slurping noodles—toddlers, strollers and all—until about 8 pm when they cleared out to make way for the stroller-less. The menu is straightforward: four kinds of ramen, all for $12 (miso-scallion, pork-scallion, soy-scallion, vegetarian-miso), and small plates, all for $7, including crispy Brussels sprouts, pork gyoza, chicken wings, and a kale salad. The specials last night were kimchi pork ramen in a red miso broth, and spicy pickles.
Let’s face it, I can’t resist kimchi or pork or red miso, so you know what I ordered.* Karen had the vegetarian miso ramen with market vegetables. We split the kale salad with sweet potato chips, raisins, and a miso dressing. Half the kale was a crunchy, addictive tempura, and the rest of the kale tasted like kale chips, so we basically loved this dish.
*I’m reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, a birthday present from Karen actually (do you think she’s trying to tell me something?), maybe by the time I’m done I’ll take my ramen sans pork too.
I don’t know if we have Morimoto to thank, or the research trips Blankenship and Koon took to Japan, but this ramen was the real deal. It reminded me of ramen I slurped in 2009 on the outskirts of Tokyo on a hot, steaming August afternoon after Yuji and I were kicked out of a public swimming pool (long story). I’m excited that I actually found the photo I took at that meal, below. I tried, really tried, to eat ramen the Japanese way, making loud sounds as you suck the noodles through your lips.
At Chuko, the red-miso broth, topped with a soft egg and scallion shavings, was salty, soulfoul, earthy, and got increasingly spicy the longer it mingled with the kimchi.
So we slurped until we could slurp no more, then walked out into the cool night air. Yes, it was finally dark outside. I could get used to Sundays at Chuko.
Chuko 552 Vanderbilt Avenue (corner of Dean St.), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Cash Only.