EATS & DRINKS
Co-op Ramen House
Authentic Japanese flavors served up in a modern space at an approachable price
By Case Dighero
Photos by Meredith Mashburn
801 SE 8th Street, Ste. 31, Bentonville
Eyes closed, my head tilts forward just inches away from the teeming bowl of broth, noodles emitting fragrant warm steam that gently caresses my chin, cheeks and forehead. In my meditative state, I decode the perfumes of sesame, earthy sprouts, sharp green onions and rich chili that stretches to the back of my cheeks, watering my mouth. Embarrassed, I open one eye to look across the table at my friend, now fully engaged in the same trance-like state as my own.
“Hey,” I say, waking her from her dewy trance. “Let’s eat!”
Arkansas-based hospitality group Ropeswing recently launched its newest restaurant, Co-op Ramen, at 8th Street Market in Bentonville. Although the model hails from the other side of the world, it has great potential to become the favorite destination among the growing concepts in the Ropeswing catalog. Its simple approach to cuisine is genuine, but its affordable, quick and sexy style give it mass appeal – which is the golden ticket for any restaurant concept.
There are three distinct experiences for dining at Co-op Ramen, all worthy and interesting based on your mood and party size. Everyone orders from the front counter – a fast-casual technique for quickly dispersing guests to their tables and satisfying to-go orders. If dining alone, consider sitting at the bar that surrounds the steaming, clanging activity of the kitchen, where you can sit, hunched over your bowl, catching up on your favorite streaming show (politely, with air pods), nearly elbow-to-elbow with a complete stranger.
Or, perhaps crowd together at the rectangular-shaped community tables with a group of friends, playing an important part in the open air, noisy theater of food, ultimately filling the space with the beautiful virtues of a diverse community.
If, however, you prefer a more intimate experience, then the semi-private varnished plywood booths would be more appropriate – especially if you plan on engaging in brothy meditation with your tablemate.
Themenu is compact yet impressive, making it quick and easy to order. I recommend the Shitake Gyoza ($5), a steam, fried dumpling stuffed with earthy mushrooms and a salty soy dipping sauce. Especially enjoyable when served with a carafe of the Bride of the Fox Junmai Ginjo ($24).
The ramen is extraordinary, offering something for just about every taste. That includes gluten-free noodles if you prefer, for a slight additional charge. My favorite is the Spicy Tori Paitan ($13) comprised of creamy chicken broth, bean sprouts, green onions, soft boiled egg slices, chili oil, sesame seeds and wonderfully flavorful spiced fried chicken. Indeed, this is the one that put me into the aforementioned meditative state before I had even taken one taste…obviously, food at its most transcendent. My friend dreamily swooned over the Classic Tokyo Shoyu ($12) devised with clear chicken broth, pork belly, bamboo shoots, Naruto or white fish cake, green onions and crispy bands of seaweed.
The restaurant offers five varieties of ramen that also include spare ribs and a delicate Vegan Miso ($12) made with vegan broth, Brussels sprouts, corn, pak choi, bamboo shoots, black mushrooms, green onions and nori. But keep in mind, they also offer additions and embellishments that include everything from braised pork and fried chicken to seaweed and green onions, allowing even the most discriminating diner an opportunity to enjoy the wares.
If ramen isn’t your thing, rest assured that the list of rice bowls includes a veggie variety as well as a Chashu Rice Bowl ($11) constructed with pork belly, green onions, pickled vegetables and a furikake spice blend made with perfectly balanced heat and citrus notes.
The noodles alone are worth the trip, but perhaps the greatest virtue of Co-op Ramen is its innate ability to simultaneously feed guests an experience of intimacy and community within its space. I’ve enjoyed the experience in every iteration: introspective and alone, gregarious with a crowd, and quietly connected with a friend. All have significance in my sometimes hectic life, and Co-op Ramen satisfies them all.