The food: Ramen’s the signature item, and the classic Japanese noodles come in an array of subtle and less-so broths and with an array of addenda. Fans will rejoice. (Newcomers: If all you’ve had is boil-water-add ramen, believe me, you haven’t had ramen. Miso is an easy start: a broth that employs pork and chicken, studded with sweet corn and leeks and chashu, which is braised pork belly. And those toothsome noodles! Yes, there’s a vegan version, and the accompaniments range from house-smoked salmon to onsen, a sous-vide egg.)
Chef-owner Michael Shortino offers other options as well, though he’s added only a few things so far to the abbreviated menu he opened with, plus daily specials. Other don’t-miss fare for now: the Lowcountry Pork Belly Bun; Fried Brussels sprouts (nearly leaf-by-leaf, and with bonito flakes adding about a mile of depth); and Rice Crispy Squares – a little pot of spicy tuna that you ladle onto chunks of a rice slab that are crunchy on the outside, chewy within. Add a bit of wasabi ponzu (sauce) and savor. Tsukemen’s offered on a limited basis: A sort of deconstructed ramen, this is noodles you dip in broth that’s served separately. You might think about saving room for the yuzu/baby ginger soft-serve, too. Let me know about that; I couldn’t manage it.
The look: Small and simple, with a few elegant details, like ramen bowls from William Baker Pottery (in Bakersville, N.C., near the Penland School). Note the horizontal wood paneling on the walls, the beer list made visual on shelves, and the surprisingly comfortable backless barstools that let you peer into the open kitchen as you eat, or pull up to a long communal table.
The service: Ours was attentive, from recommending drinks (check the sake list and local beers; hoping these will expand further) to walking newbies through their choices and explaining the Japanese words in menu descriptions.
The details: $5-$12; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, “late” Friday-Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday; www.futobuta.com/; 222 E. Bland St. – but wait! Don’t try putting this in your iPhone or Google maps app, because that’ll take you nowhere – or rather to the Post South End entrance; that’s the apartment/complex housing it. Instead park (there or on South Boulevard, in the 1400 or 1500 blocks or anywhere on the block formed by South, Bland, South Tryon and Rensselaer Avenue (at Crispy Crepe) and head toward the light rail. Futo Buta faces the tracks, but is actually along Rensselaer. You’re welcome.