Afuri's rapid rise to fame in the Portland ramen game has been dramatic, and it's gotten even more so in the past week, with critics at Portland Monthly and The Oregonian at loggerheads over its signature yuzu shio ramen.
In the December 2016 issue of PoMo, senior editor Kelly Clarke writes, "One slurp of Afuri's signature yuzu shio broth and you get what the fuss is about: The flavors of gently simmered chicken and dried seafood mingle in a subtle soup steeped with Japanese citrus." But The O's Samantha Bakall countered in last week's Scouting Report, "That centerpiece yuzu shio ramen ($15) was nicely scented with yuzu, but delicate almost to the point of blandness."
Afuri is one of the most acclaimed ramen chains in Tokyo, and it came to Portland just last month. To get the crucial 411 on its food, Eater caught up with Afuri U.S. CEO Taichi Ishizuki:
1. Afuri's 'chicken broth': Afuri's specialty is yuzu shio, a ramen made with a clear broth called "chintan" and labeled simply "chicken broth" on the menu. Ishizuki says this style of ramen varies greatly from the ramens usually served in the United States, which are often tonkotsu-style and easily distinguishable, with a cloudy pork-bone-based paitan broth.
2. Chintan vs. paitan: Paitan broth is made at a higher temperature, often boiling vigorously for hours. Chintan broth is heated at a lower temperature — barely at all boiling.
3. The difference: According to Ishizuki, Afuri's clear chicken broth ramens have more nuanced flavor, whereas its paitan ramen is richer. Cooking the chicken broth at a low temperature, the different ingredients create layers in the pot while they're cooking, and this helps each individual flavor retain its character, creating a lighter but more dynamic broth. With paitan, the higher heat emulsifies the fat components of the pork bones. This creates a deep richness.
4. The whole Portland water thing: "We really choose Portland for its water. It's not a marketing gimmick," says Ishizuki. "Because it is soft, the water can absorb more flavor."
5. Tonkotsu-style: The only ramen currently featuring paitan broth at Afuri is the tori paitan, but it plans to add a tonkotsu-style ramen in the near future.
6. Seasonings: Afuri's yuzu shio is just one of four ramens featuring clear broth at the restaurant, and what most greatly distinguishes them are the seasonings. The yuzu shio is seasoned with salt tare (tare is used like salt to season ramen); the torigara shoyu is seasoned with soy tare; the torigara spicy is seasoned with soy tare and fermented chili; and the truffle miso is seasoned with eight-month aged black bean miso with Hoji tea.
7. Secrets: Only three people across the entire Afuri franchise know what goes into its tare.
8. Yuzu: The yuzu used in the yuzu shio is sourced from Afuri's favorite grower in the village of Umaji, Japan. Afuri and The Commons Brewery teamed up and have released a yuzu beer, too, now available at the restaurant.
9. ‘Chef spoons’: Afuri's menu goes far beyond ramen. An alum of Michael Mina's Pabu, Yoji Harada lords over the sushi counter, serving sushi rolls and sashimi (raw fish without rice), but not nigiri (raw fish with rice). Not to be missed are the chef spoons: two seasonal bites, such as the house-made nikiri soy-marinated sweet shrimp, red crab, caviar, quail egg, and micro shiso spoon.
10. From the genshiyaki grill: While some Portland chefs already use yakitori and robata grills, Afuri uses the old-school Japanese grill, genshiyaki — the only one in the U.S., according to Ishizuki. Ishizuki says every Japanese household used to have one, traditionally placed on the floor, and Afuri will use it to grill meat, fish, mushrooms, and more.
11. Brunch: Get ready: Brunch is coming. Ishizuki says it could launch as early as December.