A story in today's New York Times "Travel Summer 2007" supplement caught my eye.
Adam Sachs' "They Eat Horse Sashimi, Don't They?" was ostensibly about the "infinitely specialized, supremely obsessive, wonderfully weird culinary universe of Toyko", but what really caught my attention were Takashi Yasumura's accompanying photographs.
The lead photo (page 152) is of a pair of woman's hands holding a large lacquerware bowl of shio (salt) ramen soup inside an "individual ramen-eating booth" at Ichiran in Toyko.
As a devoted fan of shio ramen as practiced at Santouka Ramen (corporate homepage) in Arlington Heights (inside of Mitsuwa marketplace), I immediately grokked the importance of this picture.
Ramen is a messy food. The Japanese understand this. So in an effort to create the "place just right" for the enjoyment of their ramen, Ichiran provides individual booths to customers in which they may sit and slurp away at their ramen without worrying whether or not they're splashing their neighbor(s).
To take the design of a restaurant and craft it so perfectly around the enjoyment of a single dish is sublime. Engaging all of the senses, creating harmony between the object and its delivery, these seem to be the mission of Ichiran. That and high-velocity noodle delivery. Hiro Protagonist would be proud.
I really liked Mr. Sachs' description of the "service moment":
(Ramen) is an inelegant food. This may explain the individual curtained-off ramen-eating cells at a chain called Ichiran, where you buy a ticket from a vending machine, consult a lighted sign indicating the position of open cells, and sit and await the appearance of the disembodied hands that eventually present you with a steaming bowl.
I find this concept to be just wonderful. It makes me want to think about "the whole product experience" in ways I've never thought of it before.
Ichiran GM Building 2F, 4-11-11 Minato-ku, Roppongi; 011-81-3-3796-7281. Ramen runs from $6 to $10.
Toyko Essentials review of Ichiran by Appleton Piper. Highlight - "Although the main reason for people to come here may be the flavor of the soup, it is just as likely that they come here for seclusion and a place to sit and let the whirl from the outside world settle down inside of them, and enjoy fully the undisturbed pleasure of their tailor-fit ramen, the one they have been imagining all day."