In search of the perfect city to share their unique style of ramen with, Toyko-based Afuri – one of Japan’s most prominent ramen restaurants – found their home away from home in the Pacific Northwest. It was Portland, to be exact, that offered a single key ingredient that no one else could: Pure soft water from a clean source. As luck would have it the distinct geography of Portland’s Mt. Hood produces nearly identical spring water to the Afuri mountain in Japan, which the owners found to be ideal for their ramen-making. With two locations now in Portland, we found ourselves eager to showcase Afuri's simple, industrial space filled with Schoolhouse light fixtures.
Name: Afuri Ramen
Date opened: October 2016
Neighborhood: Inner Portland; Oregon
Tell us about Afuri – What was the inspiration behind the concept and how did you bring it to life in Portland?
"There is not a noodle factory in the Pacific NW; one in LA, NY and Hawaii but that's it. We decided to have our own noodle facility inside our restaurant to have the best quality noodle in Portland."
Was there a very specific design vision from the beginning or was the process more organic?
"We tried to stay true to a very simple design aesthetic that is trademark to locations in Japan. The space is intended to be a canvas for the food and the customers. We stripped the tenant space down to the bones, exposing the vaulted ceiling and brick pilasters. The new layout was driven by functionality and efficiency. Taichi and Annabelle worked together on numerous iterations until the flow of service felt optimized. We had established a pallet of colors and materials in the design process we went through for Afuri's SE location (the first Afuri in North America) and maintained this for the second, downtown location. Stained white oak, black plaster accents and off-white walls."
What are some of your favorite design elements inside the space?
"Half industry, half modern. It's very balanced."
How did you hear about Schoolhouse and why did you choose the pieces you did for Afuri?
"Schoolhouse's lights fit the project well, with their simple and intentional designs. We used their fixtures in both Portland locations. It's an added bonus to be able to use a local company."
Can you tell us about the philosophy behind your ramen and what makes it unique?
"Since ramen culture began to be known in the US, most of ramen shops does paitan style of broth which was prepared with strong heat to create emulsification between broth and pork fat. Paitan broth is very rich in flavor because of the fat content so you get a big impact in your mouth. Our broth style Chintan means taking out all the chicken fat to show layer of ingredients such as chicken, fish, vegetables. Otherwise fat hides all other sensitive flavors. Broth is made daily just like the noodles."
What’s the perfect order at Afuri?
"Yusu Shio Ramen is our signature but Jeremy, GM at Afuri, prefers the spicier parts of the menu. I would start with the Spicy Tsukemen served with a spicy tare, then dive into the spicy chicken bun steamed and branded perfectly, finally I would finish with the 'Top of the Mountain' Japanese whisky flight. This together brings a great Afuri experience. One what would surely not be forgotten!"
What are some of your favorite food and drink pairings to get?
"Yuzu Ratan and the "Nectar Harvest" sake flight or the karaage chicken and a ume cocktail, which is a twist on a Japanese old fashioned."
Photography by Jack Wineinger