Dozens of Chicago restaurants competed Saturday in the first inaugural Ramenfest at Urbanbelly. The fest, which sold out quickly, featured ramen-centric dishes by some of the city’s best and brightest chefs, from Lee Wolen of Boka to Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria. The dishes were varied, but about half the chefs offered up plays on traditional ramen, the other half opting for cold noodle dishes.
Many of the restaurants were outshined by their own strengths. The superlative honey-glazed fried chicken drumette from Honey Butter Fried Chicken, the meltingly tender bite of smoked brisket by Smoque BBQ and the paper-thin wisp of shaved aged prime rib from Michael Jordan Steakhouse far surpassed the mediocre broth and noodle concoctions placed beneath them.
The judges' choices were Shin Matsuda of Ani in third place, Heather Terhune of Sable Kitchen & Bar with a citrus-laced crab salad topped ramen in second and Ryan McCaskey of Acadia, who offered up a very traditional pork-forward tonkotsu, in first. The crowd was able to vote on their favorite dishes, and the winner was a tie between Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria, who featured al dente squid ink noodles in a spicy broth, and Harold Jurado of Yusho, who had a playful take on powdered instant ramen.
Our favorites were from John Vermiglio of A10, who served up a spin on a deconstructed sushi roll using ramen for rice, and Shin Matsuda of Ani’s somewhat traditional spicy pork meatball ramen.