Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitchen rolled through a final round of karaage and izakaya small plates. The floors of Ichicoro Ane remained a rough, unfinished concrete and rooms were essentially demarcated by slats of blonde wood, reminiscent of the flagship Ichicoro restaurant in Seminole Heights. Overall: clubby, spare and New York-hip.
It was all leading up to the public debut Sunday, which was, of course, World Ramen Day. Now, a buzzed-about new addition to Tampa Bay’s ramen scene is officially up and running.
Ichicoro Tampa is just 40 seats. This new location in St. Pete is many times that size, plus Cruz has recently opened an outpost of his food hall Imoto ("little sister") ramen concept in Birmingham, Ala.,’s historic Pizitz Building, and is around the corner from opening another version at the Heights Public Market poised to open in the Armature Works building in Tampa Heights.
And still, Cruz has remained calm. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, this is not his first rodeo. He tested out his "Tampa-style ramen" a few years back in New York City and A-list celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow showed up to wait in line. When his team debuted in Seminole Heights it was among the hardest seats in town to nab — folks waiting up to two hours to slurp down gorgeous ramen in just minutes.
Ichicoro Ane is "older sister" in Japanese, and despite the fact that this big sib is younger, it’s clearly a more ambitious project, a collaboration with Gries Investment Funds partner Steve Gianfilippo who owns the Station House building. Over here is the DJ booth; back there is the Sipping Lounge, with low chartreuse couches and doors that close off the reservation-only lounge from the rest of the concept. There’s the ramen room on one side of the hostess stand, first-come-first-served and the only part of the restaurant where one can order ramen (a very different lineup than what is on offer at the restaurant in Tampa, incentive for ramen nuts to cross the bay). The main dining room accepts reservations, the ramen room visible through those wooden slats, the main bar on view in the other direction.
The Times got a quick daytime tour of the space last Monday, then scooted back in to observe the friends-and-family events. Cruz and co-chef Branden Lenz are offering a number of raw fish dishes, dumplings and a range of smaller sharables to complement the ramen room menu. Ichicoro Ane is dinner only in Phase One, but will add brunch and then lunch down the pike. It joins a remarkable number of restaurants that will debut in St. Petersburg between now and the end of the first quarter of 2018.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.