I spent New Year’s Eve at the Barrelhouse Flat surrounded by friends of a friend’s, drinking high ball cocktails and, somewhat inexplicably, eating birthday cake sometime after midnight. Our group had a private room and, having paid in full beforehand, unlimited cocktails. The night was just the right amount of rowdy and fun–until it took us 45 minutes to catch a cab in Chicago’s 6-degree weather at 2 a.m.
Needless to say, by the time New Year’s Day came around (and I don’t mean midnight–when we finally woke up from our whiskey-induced sleep), I wanted food. I needed something to ease the pounding of my head, something to warm up my bones; nothing too complex or complicated, just comforting. The conclusion was obvious :: I needed ramen.
It seemed fitting that my first meal of 2013 would be ramen. After discovering the noodle and pork-based soup while visiting Japan in 2012, it’s been an obsession that’s stayed with me ever since. It’s comforting and savory, filling and flavorful. A perfect cure for a New Year’s Day hang over.
The Slurping Turtle is a modern, hip, dare-I-say trendy restaurant in downtown Chicago, created by the same people behind Chicago’s famous Takashi sushi restaurant that earned a Michelin star in 2012. (Not to be confused with the Takashi in Salt Lake City.) Even the Slurping Turtle got a Michelin nod with a mention on their list of noteworthy restaurants. The restaurant is bright and funky, with a communal table running the length of the restaurant in the center, flanked by booths on one side and a bar on the other. Cozy tables on the second floor overlooked those on the first, and Japanese films projected against the wall visible to everyone.
The lunch menu is impressive, with Japanese comfort food I haven’t seen since I was in Japan, like yakitori and donburi rice bowls. (It’s not that these dishes are exclusive to Japan, it’s just that they’re rare finds in Salt Lake City.) But the main focus of the Slurping Turtle is its ramen. Several different types are available, all for $14/each :: shoyu won ton ramen (Tokyo-style soy broth, chicken won ton, grilled chicken, snow peas and marinated egg), tan tan ramen (ramen stock, pork meatball, pork miso, bok choy, snow peas, bean sprouts) and tonkotsu (silky pork broth, braised pork shoulder, pickled mustard greens).
The list goes on :: Slurping Noodle (wheat free; rice noodle, clear shio broth, black tiger shrimp, fried tofu, napa cabbage, cilantro), and tofu mushroom (whole wheat ramen noodle, shio base broth, silken tofu, Japanese mushrooms, kabocha squash); as well as udon (thick wheat noodles) and soba (buckwheat noodles) for $10/each. Constantly chasing the more traditional style of ramen I had in Japan, I picked the tonkotsu ramen.
My bowl of savory and salty ramen was pure deliciousness. The mushrooms were a novelty I hadn’t had before, adding bites of chewiness and an enhanced salt flavor. The pork was perfectly sweet and the gravy-like ramen was the perfect consistency. It was exactly what I needed on the cold, Chicago day. Meagan’s spicy, meatball-spiked ramen was equally as appealing. I liked the added novelty of meat balls that switched up the textures of meat in the soup. Both were a perfect cure for our hang overs.
The Slurping Turtle, to my incredibly delightful surprise, also serves macarons. In fact, when I researched Chicago’s best macarons, Slurping Turtle was on the Chicagoists list. But you won’t find lemon or pistachio flavored cookies here; instead they offer Japanese-inspired tastes like yuzu, raspberry wasabi, chocolate-sesame, oba and caramel soy. We ordered a box to go and chowed down on them later, adding the perfect finishing touch to a wonderful first day of 2013.
The Slurping Turtle checks all the boxes in my book :: the food is delicious, the creative menu has a wide variety of items and a good selection of sake/beer/alcohol, everything is reasonably priced, and the restaurant has a fun atmosphere with good servers. Aside from our hour-long wait (it was New Year’s Day, after all), it was a perfect meal. Next time I’m in Chicago, I’m returning to the Slurping Turtle to try dinner.