Kirin Noodle Bar continues welcome Clintonville restaurant surge
The ramen-centric eatery is the newest addition to High Street south of Cooke Road, a neighborhood our restaurant critic has dubbed ‘Cooks Near Cooke’
Just south of Cooke Road on High Street is a little stretch of real estate so flush with new and good eateries that the area deserves a nickname. Maybe “Cooks Near Cooke” would work. Or maybe I should just leave the neighborhood branding to someone else.
In any event, to this restaurant-dense short neck of the woods that snugly houses Wizard of Za/Fusian, Gallo’s on High, The Pit BBQ Grille, Hot Chicken Takeover and Northstar Cafe, add Kirin Noodle Bar. As its name might suggest, Kirin Noodle Bar is a ramen-centric operation, but the fun and well-run Japanese eatery has plenty of other good things to offer, too.
Count friendly, accommodating and quick service among this Clintonville newcomer’s assets. Kirin’s personable service, which efficiently blends counter ordering with table delivery, positively contributes to an upbeat, long-and-narrow space with white walls, nice lighting, light-colored wood and a tall ceiling with exposed black ductwork.
Cocktails can go down pretty smoothly here, and Kirin offers some excellent deals on highballs presented in large frosted glasses stacked with spherical ice cubes. The refreshing Gin Tonic, made with 135 East Hyogo Dry Japanese gin that’s further brightened by shards of ginger, was a delight (and a steal for just $8.50).
Soda water supplies the effervescence for The Toki, another good-tasting, bargain-priced libation ($8.50). This pale-gold beverage, named for the scotch-like variety of Japanese Suntory whisky it’s made with, is guaranteed to please scotch-and-soda fans.
Fried-chicken fans should target the terrific chicken karaage. Listed under appetizers, it features crispy-coated thighs that arrive with a lively, sesame-oil-tinged slaw (much of Kirin’s fare is anointed with sesame oil) and in such a big serving that even the “small” order ($8.50) was entree-sized.
Another standout on the wide-ranging appetizer menu handsomely illustrates an alliance between Japanese and Jewish approaches to seafood. Called tuna crispy rice ($10.50 for three), it’s golden-brown crunchy rice cakes topped with clean-tasting tuna tartare and garnished with Japanese-style mayonnaise and a sliver of serrano chile. If spicy tuna sushi and a salmon latke had a baby, it’d be something like this.
While more commonplace, both the pan fried mini pork gyoza ($8) and the meatball appetizers ($8) were large and pleasant. I’d definitely give the edge to the gyoza — purse-shaped dumplings with fun-to-munch, pan-crisped bottoms and juicy, scallion-flecked ground-pork fillings. If the meatballs seemed hardly artisanal, their sweet-tangy glaze and springy textures made them easy to eat.
I could say something similar about Kirin’s traditional-style ramen: the classic shoyu ($12.50), whose clear broth featured an appealing baconlike flavor countered by spinach; and the classic miso ($13), whose opaque broth had rich-and-savory peanut butter notes.
Each also had loads of decent noodles, plus scallions, bamboo shoots, one slice of roast pork (thick and good-tasting but not tender) and half a respectable ramen egg. Though not as nuanced or as prettily presented as the best versions in town, both soups were huge and satisfying meals.
Frankly, the ramen I preferred here didn’t have a “classic” designation. These include tan tan men ($13.50), Kirin’s version of a popular-in-Japan riff on Sichuan dandan noodles. This simple-but-likeable soup was quite refreshing, especially when ordered chilled (a menu option) on a hot afternoon. Its other attributes were marinated ground beef, attractive cucumber segments and a spicy broth bearing citrusy, sweet and eggy notes.
The ramen I enjoyed most was the raksa curry ($14), which was similar to a Thai-style curry. It starred a spicy broth enriched with coconut milk, dark-meat chicken, shellfish notes and abundant vegetables. Dishes like this — and the prospect of sampling other dishes here (like tomato-and-cheese ramen, sauteed shishito peppers and the “coming soon” sushi) — will definitely lure me back to, umm, the Cooks Near Cooke area.
Kirin Noodle Bar
4227 N. High St., Clintonville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Tuesday.