Sunday, October 18, 2015

1981 Ramen Bar

This has got to be the best new addition to Downtown Lowell's dining scene.  

Tonkotsu Ramen
We had planned on checking out Oktoberfest at JFK plaza but once we walked by the event, it looked pretty sad.  There's wasn't any live music, there were no heated tents and there was no crowd. I didn't want to pay $5.00 to get in, buy cold food and drink beer with the wind blowing on my face.  Instead, we headed to Cobblestones and got a round of drinks and some apps.

After moving our way to the Old Court for another round of drinks, we walked back to 1981 Ramen Bar on Merrimack Street.  Although the restaurant doesn't open until 5 PM daily, they were a few people already seated by the windows before that the advertised hours of operation.

We showed up after 6 PM and the place was packed.  The place itself isn't very large and there's not many tables.  We snagged the last (2) tables of 2 adn the server converted it into a table for four.  There was an extensive demographic for the clientele.  There were young people, older people, college kids, families with small children, white people, south Asians and North Asians. (You get the point!)

The bar area was a nice touch. For those who didn't want to wait for a table, they could opt for the bar seats and watch the bartenders create some yummy cocktails or check out the cooks on the right prepare their food in the open space kitchen.

Our server brought us menu's right away.  There were also specials posted on the chalkboard for seasonal drinks and cocktails.  I went with the lychee vodka marini (there are two kinds), Dary got the Zipang sparkling sake, the Mo was boring and got a Singha and Makara got the amber ale.  The martini was absolutely delicious! It wasn't too strong and the lychee flavor wasn't overwhelming. I also liked that it wasn't too sweet.

Lychee martini

Zipang Sake
As we starting drinking, more people started to arrive. It was a bit awkward because we were seated by the hostess station/entrance.  As the wait started to accumulate, I felt like people were staring at us and listening in on our conversations. It wasn't a huge deal but it was just a little weird since every sentence comes out of my mouth contains profanity.

For starters, we split the grilled corn, aranchini and crispy chicken baos.  each plate came with 3-4 pieces but we were able to share among our group of 4.  I LOVED EVERYTHING!

The corn was a guilty pleasure, it was grilled and smothered with butter, panko and lime aioli (aka mayonnaise).

Grilled corn

The braised short rib and fontini cheese aranchini was soooo good! I loved the tender beef inside the fried balls of goodness. I prefer this fusion over any Italian version out there. Good bye ground beef, hello braised short rib! 
Braised short rib + fontina cheese arancini 
delicious filling!
The steam bao's were on the pricey side ($7.00/8.00) for two pieces. Although they weren't the BEST that I have ever had, they were still good. I enjoyed the contrast with the crunchy chicken and the "pillowy" soft bun. I could probably imitate it and make it at home.

Koji Aged Crispy chicken steamed bao (2 pieces per order)  $ 7.00
We were getting kind of full from grazing on snacks and throwing back pumpkin beers all day but we had to try the ramen.  Afterall, the restaurant is called 1981 Ramen Bar.

Since the other 3 were getting ramen, I opted to change it up a bit. I went with the rice gnocchi bolognese.  It was so good! it reminded me of sliced rice cakes topped with bolognese sauce.The portion was plentiful and I had leftovers to take home.

"Rice Gnocchi" Bolognese 
My fellow diners were kind enough to let me try their ramen soup.  The pork broth in the tonkotsu ramen was bold and full of flavor.  I'm not surprised that it takes 48 hour to prepare the broth.  I liked that you can customize the soup and do "add ons" for an extra couple of bucks.  Those items included: marinated eggs, mushroom, corn, chicken and my favorite, the pork belly confit.

Tonkotsu ramen $12.00

The smoked chicken ramen featured a different broth and had smoked brick chicken, corn and pickled radish.

Smoked chicken ramen
The bill came out to about $ 120.00 for 4 drinks, 3 apps and 4 entrees. It's pricier than your typical Asian noodle eatery but the ambiance and menu is quite different.  You pay for the experience.

I don't think I'd be a regular but I'd definitely go back again.  Service was really great!

129 Merrimack Street
Lowell, MA 01852
(978) 970-1981

M-Th       5-9 PM
Fri, Sat     5-11 PM
Sun          Closed