271 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
If you’ve got culinary memories of road trips down South, this ramen joint may take you places you didn’t expect to go. In a pillowy-soft steamed bun, a thinly pounded and crisply panko-battered chicken breast is lightly dressed in a sticky-sweet sauce and nestled atop some sour pickle chips ($7 for two buns). One bite and the neon-lighted bowl of noodles in Dassara’s window fades; you’ve been transported to a drive-through window in southern Georgia. For those of us who support gay marriage, it’s not cool to admit to an occasional hankering for a Chick-fil-A sandwich. But thanks to the fried-chicken steamed bun at Dassara, you can revisit the flavors and textures of this beloved snack—minus the hate sauce.
When Dassara’s owners came up with their rotating list of steamed bun specials, they probably didn’t plan on transporting patrons to the Georgia highway. That said, they probably weren’t concerned about transporting their customers to the traditional ramen shops of Japan, either. This joint is something between a kitschy tiki bar and trendy optometrist’s office on Smith Street. They’ve gotten plenty of press for their Japanese-Jewish Deli Ramen ($15), a spin on the traditional noodle bowl with house-made matzo balls and Montreal-style smoked meat from the nearby Mile End deli. But their standard ramen ($12) is memorable, too. Meltingly fatty pork belly, slightly bitter rainbow chard, and a creamy poached egg meet in a full-bodied and umami-rich chicken broth, with notes of miso and star anise. Small, sweet Manila clams in open shells top the White Clam Mazemen ($13), which is served with a small pool of broth that’s briny and creamy enough to flavor the whole bowl of noodles.
The two-room space—darkness and barstools on one side, bright lights and kid-friendly tables on the other—makes the place work well for a casual date or family outing, and the menu extends beyond ramen and steamed buns. The sake-and-booze cocktails are a tad pricey at $12, but there’s also a selection of craft beers on tap and a well-curated bottle list that includes Japanese brews from Hitachino and Ise Kadoya. The soft-launch of their brunch menu included a mind-blowing breakfast ramen with a poached egg, a bit of rich, bacon-y broth and small, chewy smoke-bombs of pork. A soul-warming cast-iron skillet of super-spicy winter squash and ground pork packed a lot of heat for morning consumption, but we’d happily order it again. In short: whether the chicken bun conjures nostalgia for the fast food joints of your youth, Dassara serves the sort of comfort food you’ll look back on fondly for years to come.
Photo Mark Anderson