When it comes to Japanese food and ramen, my best dining experiences have come in NYC in a place like Ippudo NYC. But finding authentic ramen in the Triangle is no guarantee so of course, Dashi (Japanese stock-broth) was a welcome addition. A two-floor restaurant specializing in ramen on the first floor and an izakaya (Japanese pub with food) upstairs! Run by the Cotlers from my long-time favorite, Toast Paninoteca, online reviews for Dashi have been a bit all over the place. But over the last year or so, I’ve been able to drop in a couple of times and see what Dashi was serving up along with its Japanese food.
Approaching Dashi, the restaurant looks like a very small space with two separate entrances. At the left-hand door, head in for the ramen, on the right-hand door, you’ve got the izakaya-bar area. You may have to check in with the host in the main ramen room for seating in either space. My dining has been primarily in the izakaya (2nd floor area) because I prefer the option of ramen and the small plate. Head on up a dimly lit stairway (cool!) to the second-floor space. Inside they’ve done a wonderful job with the interior. Rich woods, with a very ascetic Japanese feel of functionality around its caged lighting, bare woodwork, and brick. There’s seating for singles at the bar and along one side of the space. Small two and four-tops fill out the rest of the space, it’s a very compact space but well utilized.
The menu at Dashi is tight and well-curated, featuring sections for small and large appetizers, yakimono (grilled skewers), ramen, and more. For starters, Dashi has a couple of classic Japanese appetizers, the agedashi tofu and grilled edamame which are both excellent. The agedashi tofu features lightly fried cubes of tofu sitting atop a thick, soy-based mentkusu sauce offering a nice contrast between the interesting textures of the fried tofu with the umami-laden sauce. The grilled edamame is a nice take on steamed edamame but provides a bit more charred flavor, a lovely option.
Dashi also offers up an assortment of yakimono (grilled skewers) appetizers covering pork belly, chicken thighs, mushrooms, shrimp, and more! Sprinkled with some green scallion, these skewers offer a lot of flavor in a classic food on a stick, format. The pork and shrimp dumplings are solid but not my favorite option, the dumpling skins were a bit thicker than expected.
Moving to the entrees, like any izakaya, the bowls and ramen are where it’s at and Dashi does a nice job here if you want a bowl that’s blinged out! Their shoyu ramen is topped with shredded pork, wood ear mushroom, and the popular soy-marinated soft egg. It’s a filling bowl, heavy on noodles and topping, lighter on the broth. Mazemen is another favorite dish of mine, noodles slicked with chili oil and served with meatballs and rapini. It’s a simple dish that’s great when done well, the slightly bitter greens provide a nice counterpoint to the soft noodles and savoriness of the dish. Dashi does a nice job here.
In the end, I really enjoyed the ambiance and feel of Dashi but still have some questions on the food and preparation. Little touches around the broth and over-cooked nature of some items have me wondering a bit. My experiences outside of NC have been more about the basics: perfectly cooked noodles, balanced broth, and just enough toppings to add some color and flavor to the bowl. And I admit that maybe there are no ramen spots in the Triangle that are stellar, they seem to go over the top with the extras add-ons versus just really nailing the noodles, broth, and overall dish. But in the end, Dashi does a nice job here and I can see it being a good date spot or dinner for a small group given the tight space. And in the middle of winter, sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than a big ol’ bowl of ramen!
415 E Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC 27701