Remember Agura, the two-million dollars worth of Japanese restaurant that opened and closed in Hollywood in the blink of an eye? We admit we counted the proprietors out about as quickly when it failed. But Squid Ink reports that the chef and owner is a total bad-ass who refused to commit seppuku after the shutter, swore a vendetta against all of Japan, then opened a polished new ramen shop in a subtle LaBrea strip mall late last month called Ikemen. How did Yasumasa “Max” Kawabata reclaim his lost glory?
In lively prose by Andrew Froug, we learn that Ikemen (apparently a word analogous to “metrosexual”) came together through the blood, sweat, tears, and maybe a soupcon or two of bitterness, from three Japanese outcasts. Kawabata refused to go back to his homeland following the failure of Agura. He even says, “I couldn’t go back to Japan…So I wanted revenge,” which sounds like something Charles Bronson might say after smoking everybody in a sushi joint.
The lone wolf restaurateur was soon joined by his cub, ramen wizard Shigetoshi Nakamura, who slept two hours every night above Ikemen’s sweltering kitchen in the weeks prior to opening. Kawabata is not the only one here who feels spurned from the Land of the Rising Sun, either. Ikemen’s manager and current chef was once an heir to a fish flake factory fortune, but found Japan’s business culture to be suffocating and was all like, “sayonara suckers!” to the folks back home.
Bound together, the trio went in the opposite direction of Agura, carving the bar themselves and doing their own lighting and music design for the hip interior of Ikemen. What results is a ramen shop that adheres to authenticity with its dip-able tsukemen noodles, but isn’t afraid to buck customs when it comes to the broth, with Italian-influenced ramen, and variations like the “zebra dip” and “Johnny dip” available.
While Nakamura has moved on from the restaurant he helped create, manager Takashi Adachi is cooking his recipes and Kawabata is on the verge of something diners are likely to feel much more devoted to than Agura. L.A.’s #1 ramen expert Rameniac has already deemed the offerings here “fantastic,” though he was trying to keep it all for himself and out of the hands of us “geeky” bloggers.
In any case, the last twelve months have brought some major ramen players to L.A. proper, like Tsujita, Jinya, and Yamadaya**. It’s wonderful to watch the bar raise ever higher for authentic, passionate, and reliable Japanese eats in our city.
Ikemen, 1655 N. La Brea Ave. Hollywood. 323-800-7669.
Ikemen Ramen: Now Open + Bringing Hollywood Cool to Japanese Noodles [Squid Ink]
ikemen at arms [Rameniac]
Update: Food GPS reports that Ramen Yamadaya is coming next to Westwood.