HOUSTON — After three years of international accolades and serving as a Hawaiian haven for Japanese comfort food with five Oahu locations spanning from Honolulu to Aiea, AGU Ramen made its mainland debut in Houston. In the Westchase District, the newest location held a pre-grand opening reception on Thursday.
Taken by the city’s central location, ethnic and cultural diversity and current culinary renaissance, acclaimed chef Hisashi “Teddy” Uehara has moved his central operations to the Bayou City as he embarks on a national expansion for his authentic and traditional Japanese ramen eateries.
Uehara estimates he’s visited more than 600 ramen restaurants throughout the world to refine AGU, and judging from the fanfare, it has all paid off.
In addition to the city’s pro-business climate and affinity for dining out, Houston has long been on Uehara’s radar given its palate for a wide array of cuisine.
“I chose this city because I love Houston. I have come here many, many times, and my experience has been that the people here are welcoming and accepting. I wanted to open a restaurant where guests have an appreciation of food, and Houstonians know quality food,” Uehara said.
His approach to making ramen, the restaurant’s signature, relies on time-honored and time-intensive mastery rarely utilized in the current wave of ramen fast casual restaurants. “My ramen is very simple, and my technique is very old school. There is no shortcut; the key is to use the best product and to not rush the preparation or cooking process. It’s truly a science.”
To create AGU’s signature, creamy, tonkotsu broth, more than 1,560 pounds of pork bones are slowly boiled at an extremely high heat in 80 gallon Japanese kettles, each costing upwards of $25,000. All of AGU’s dishes are made from scratch, and the majority of ingredients are imported from Japan.
“Our signature broth takes 22 hours, our chicken broth, nine hours, and our cha-shu 18 hours,” says Uehara. “When cooking ramen, you need passion and patience in order to create a piece of art”.
Uehara’s methods are so well-renowned, he is invited to Japan regularly to teach chefs from around the globe his craft, and he typically makes the trip half a dozen times a year for research purposes. It is at these international symposiums that he not only shares his adoration of ramen and cooking with fellow enthusiasts, but also finds inspiration for new dishes and techniques from other culture’s flavors and culinary traditions.
More than 20 different ramen varieties will be offered at the Houston locations. Standout selections include the Original Kotteri, a bowl comprised of extra rich broth with black garlic oil, garlic chips and silky se-abura. For guests craving an extra kick can opt for The Spicy Kotteri, made with fresh house made pork char siu, aji tamago, crunchy menma, fried garlic chips, fresh negi and sesame seeds; or the Tan Tan Tonkotsu, a tonkotsu broth blended with spicy sesame tare and served with tan tan noodles, ground pork miso, bok choy, zaasai and aji tamago. Lighter fare includes Yuzu Jidori, a jidori ramen served with an assemblage of cilantro and Thai chili; and AGU’s Savory Parmesan, a twist on the Original Kotteri topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese.
With equal emphasis on ramen and a variety of Asian offerings, AGU’s Houston menu comprises a variety of small plates, mains and dishes created specifically for the local market.
As a backdrop for AGU’s fare, each Houston restaurant – averaging approximately 2,500 square feet – will combine traditional and modern design elements ranging from geometric lattice work to potted fountain grass. Minh Nguyen, principal of Houston-based J’RH Designs, wanted AGU’s interior to be contemporary and industrial while incorporating original Japanese aspects.
AGU, a Ramen Bistro, will be open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. at Westhimer and Washington, and 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. at Eldridge Parkway. The Washington and Westheimer locations will offer a full bar while Eldridge will serve beer and wine only.
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