I visited Buya Ramen last night as a guest for their pre-opening night where they gave a sneak peek of the menu as the servers and cooks prepared for their opening happening tomorrow August 10th. Please note that this experience was a preview for the restaurant and may not reflect the actual opening or dining experience.
The restaurant has plenty of seating with 104-seats and the decor of the restaurant has a swanky-upscale vibe with a touch of hipster that is at home with many of the options in the EDGE District and Downtown St. Petersburg. Plenty of natural light exists from the windows at the entrance and the dimmer lighting sets a more relaxing mood for the evening.
I was a fan of the wall art that included what appeared to be a ramen battle ensuing between hungry and nude geishas. It caught my eye more than the rooster wall painting.
Drinks could not go wrong with local mixologist Ryan Pines at the helm. Two drinks were served for tasting.
1) The Geisha: Reyka vodka, cocchi americano, thai basil, and peychaud’s bitters
2) Mr. Sulu: Knob Creek rye, buya vermouth, dolin dry, and bitterman’s chocolate mole bitters
I leaned on the rye heavily – both drinks were not for a light-weight drinker. The bar at Buya Ramen is beautiful and could easily be a popular place for drinks after work or on the weekends with some appetizers.
Speaking of the appetizers I really loved the Seaweed Salad that mixed in some delicious hijiki (which I normally detest at most restaurants in bentos) and the Pork Belly Bun was excellent and rivaled Tampa favorite Anise Gastrobar.
Back to the drinks – the wine selection was exquisite and really made me excited for what was to come. Restaurants who have a great wine program usually are in tune with their taste buds.
I was a fan of both the Giminez Riili ‘Buenos Hermanos’ Torrentes and the Clos de Chacras ‘Cavas de Crianza’ red blend. Both Argentina wines were easy to drink and wouldn’t detract from a meal and could easily be enjoyed on their own.
I tried all three of the ramens between different people’s bowls available for tasting: Crispy Duck, Wagyu Brisket Ramen, and Mushroom. The first two were tonkotsu (pork) ramen which is one of my favorite types and the last was shio (salt).
My favorite by far was the Wagyu Brisket Ramen – the flavor was rich and enjoyable. It was quite different from the shoyu (soy-sauce) based ramen at Japanese Kitchen Dosunco. If I could any of the 3 ramens I would choose the Wagyu Brisket.
One of the nice things about having new ramen shops in town is that chefs can display different ramen types. The lack of ramen shops in the past has made that difficult.
The shio ramen was my least favorite by far and tasted quite like a clear onion soup with mushrooms on-top. Normally I am actually a fan of this type of soup, but didn’t find it to be comparable to the tonkotsu broth. Still, it’s an option for many people who cannot or choose not to eat pork broths.
All the servers we encountered were friendly – especially considering the chaos of having over 100 guests around the restaurant sampling all kinds of food and drinking from the bar. Most servers seemed to have some experience and were often checking on all the guests despite the crowd.
The kitchen in the back seems to be small and considering the number of seats in the restaurant – hopefully the turnaround time for ramen after opening will be efficient and quick.
Buya Ramen has plenty of potential. I could see it growing and helping to spread ramen culture across the bridge. Pretty much everything I tried was delicious and seemed to aim for a savory palate. I will return after they open and have some time to get settled to see how the full menu is and how the kitchen and service keeps up with demand.