Restaurant review: Fukuryu Ramen

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Aside from its name, which means "lucky dragon," Fukuryu Ramen (careful, it's pronounced foo-koo-ree-yoo) makes it easy and fun to eat something often approached with the seriousness of a spiritual pursuit: Japanese-style noodle soup.

Declaring a "love of un-fancy Japanese foods," this new Upper Arlington spin-off of an Australian restaurant is owned by Jeff Tsao, whose father once owned the Kahiki Supper Club.

Come to think of it, Fukuryu actually does inspire the pursuit of a spirit: beer. Three cuisine-appropriate brews are on tap ($4.90), two from Cincinnati (Zen and Truth, produced by Rhinegeist Brewery) and one with Japanese roots (Sapporo).

You order these and everything else at the counter, where uncommonly friendly and knowledgeable servers walk customers through a potentially confusing menu. Then you'll take a seat - make that a stool - either at the counter or at a little table in the modest-sized, generally high-energy space, where lively music sometimes plays at nightclub-type levels. Like the elaborate red dragon mural occupying one wall, the vibe is hardly subdued, but it perfectly suits this busy and buzzy place.

Before dipping into the soup entrees - or while dipping into them, considering how the dishes haphazardly shoot out here - you can enjoy a "small plate" such as "JFC," aka Japanese Fried Chicken, aka Karaage ($4.90). It's a generous mound of reputation-rehabilitating chicken nuggets with honest meat and a crunchy, thick and pleasantly salty batter. On the side: shredded Napa cabbage and zippy "yuzu citrus mayo," which offsets its fruity sweetness with a chili bite.

The Pork Gyoza ($4.90) - five dumplings with a ground pork and scallion filling - is simple but satisfying, especially when ordered pan-fried. A smidge of distinction arrives from the fiery and salty green chili paste, which accompanies a soy-and-vinegar-based dipping sauce.

I figured a salad offered in a ramen joint might be an afterthought. I figured wrong - unless you think a fresh and sizable texture-fest of crisp romaine lettuce, Napa cabbage, corn, black sesame seeds and crunchy chow mein noodles tossed in a lively, properly applied sesame-ginger dressing constitutes an afterthought.

Mystique aside, ramen comprises three components: broth, noodles and add-ons. Fukuryu delivers well on all counts, even when bowls don't look so artfully composed.

The fresh noodles are specially made by a local noodle factory using Fukuryu's recipe. That's nice, but what's even nicer is they're consistently al dente and adequately springy.

Broths supply most of the flavor, and Fukuryu's Signature Tonkotsu Ramen (pork-bone-based, $11.90) accurately signals that this restaurant won't be serving anything bland. The tonkotsu broth is golden, rich and properly populated with fat globules that result in a depth of porky flavor.

The accoutrements hold up their end of the bargain, too, including: thin slices of fatty, remarkably tender pork belly with an effective soy marinade, a toasted nori strip, crisp, hefty, pleasant hunks of bamboo shoot, chopped scallions, half a soy-marinated, soft boiled egg with a creamy yolk and little curls of wood ear mushroom.

Replace those wood ears with narutomaki (mild fish cake slices sporting pretty pink spirals) and substitute a lighter (but still delicious) homemade chicken broth perked up by soy sauce, and you have Fukuryu's Shoyu Ramen ($10.90).

Seeking more oomph? Try the winning and relatively thick Miso Ramen ($10.90) - its rich, fermented soybean-based broth has hints of kombu and chili that play well off extra toppings of buttered corn and ground pork.

Seeking more heat? The nutty, deliciously aggressive Red Dragon Ramen ($12.90) lives up to its fire-breathing name. Fukuryu's chicken broth and regular toppings are augmented with garlic and sesame seeds, plus incendiary chili oil. Like this restaurant, it ain't subtle, but it's fun.

Fukuryu Ramen

1600 W. Lane Ave., Upper Arlington