By Jake Ekdahl, Contributing writer
Only a week after opening, Red Light Ramen seems already to have become a popular venue. I arrived just after the restaurant began serving for the night to find a group of customers waiting to be seated.
Owner Justin Carlisle also owns Ardent, the restaurant next door at 1751 N. Farwell St., where he used to hold ramen nights on Fridays and Saturdays. The nights drew a large following. So when the storefront next to Ardent’s became available, Carlisle seized the opportunity to create a space devoted to ramen. Little surprise it has become a favorite spot for an after-work bite.
“It’s been crazy. We’ve been very blessed and fortunate,” Carlisle said.
The restaurant’s name was derived from its location “down in a basement.” “So it’s kind of like a red light district,” Carlisle said.
In addition to ramen, the menu has a variety of seafood tins and Japanese snacks. For drinks, there is a sizable sake list, as well as beer and wine.
The atmosphere is hip without being off-putting to people who aren’t, striking a balance between cool and convenient. The walls are red and painted with artwork.
Carlisle, who arrived in Milwaukee five years ago, has been in the restaurant business since high school, when he worked as a dishwasher. It seems to be a family thing: His brother is a chef. “I blame him for everything,” he said with a smile.
What makes Carlilse’s ramen special is his traditional approach. “We try to hold (to the) roots of what ramen is. I learned from a Japanese man. (I’ve) been to Japan several times.”
The traditional approach has worked. I ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen, which Carlisle called his personal favorite. (I later regretted that I didn’t get another one to go). It was served with pork, scallion, mushroom, bamboo shoots, nori, fish cake, egg and wasabi greens. The quality and presentation far exceeded what you’d expect in a ramen dish. The yolk of the egg was not too runny, but not solid either. It went particularly well with the crunchy bamboo shoots and succulent pork.
Currently, the restaurant is open 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Red Light Ramen is located near Ethiopian Cottage, Kabana Grill, Pho 43 and the Pizza Shuttle, adding to a growing cluster of culturally diverse dining in the area.
I look forward to what comes next.
Name: Red Light Ramen
Location: 1751 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee
Premise: Ramen and Japanese food
Menu samples: Tonkotsu Ramen ($13); Maboroshi Sake ($5); Snack Pack, served with whipped spam, spicy mayo, cucumber and nori ($6): Stuffed Squid Seafood Tin, served with pickled vegetables ($10)
Bite-size review: As a place to grab a steaming bowl of ramen after work and as a late-night food stop, Red Light Ramen offers traditional Japanese-style food at great prices.
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