After six years of running 5510 Morningside Drive as 55 Bar & Restaurant, Piran Esfahani and his silent partners were ready for a change. "Japanese cuisine is something we really have a passion for," he says. "We decided in the Rice Village area, there’s really very little out there such as that." If all goes according to schedule, that will change in the first week of December with the opening of Nao Ramen House.
Esfahani, who closed Midtown's Tarakaan last summer, will collaborate again with that restaurant's chef, Rob Frias, an alum of Nara Sushi & Korean Kitchen and current mind behind Eminent Events & Catering. While Tarakaan was chef-driven with quirky bites such as the NYC roll—which paired green-tea-smoked salmon with cream cheese, avocado, radish sprouts, kanikama, cucumber, bacon-caper aioli and bagel crumble—Nao will be a straightforward ramen spot.
Four soup bases will include tonkotsu, chicken, beef and miso, combined in six signature bowls. Esfahani says Frias is also "experimenting" with a red curry broth. From those basics, customers will choose from around 25 add-ons, including veggies such as spicy bean sprouts, pickled onions and bok choy to proteins like soft shell crab.
But ramen is far from the sole focus. Esfahani says that the spacious patio will be a focus and he realizes that diners likely won't be craving a hot bowl of soup al fresco. Enter a slew of yakitori options, from basic chicken, beef and pork belly to bacon-wrapped peppers. Diners can order them individually or as a sampler plate with a cold Japanese beer, naturally. The excellent bao Frias served at Tarakaan will also be a part of the menu, whose prices Esfahani says will be in line with those at Jinya Ramen.
The restaurateur emphasizes that Nao will be a casual concept, one that he hopes he'll be able to expand to multiple locations. However, the restaurant will be full-service and will fill a large space. The approximately 3,000 square feet (not including the roughly 40-seat patio) will be partly given over to an exhibition kitchen, as well as a separate bar area which will specialize in sake, soju and "a good cocktail program."
Before work begins on the new restaurant, fans of 55 have a few weeks before it shutters for good to make way for its younger sibling. But chances are, Rice Village denizens are more than ready for ramen.