In addition to serving five kinds of ramen, Tiger Den will also feature soba, udon and Hong Kong-style "cart noodles" along with Japanese-style bar snacks (izakaya) and grilled items (robata). Although he's seen pre-made ramen broth for sale, Tran will make his own stock.
Tiger Den may not be a dedicated ramen shop, but a taste suggests it has real potential to be Chinatown's next must visit destination.
"It doesn’t make sense if you don’t make your own broth," he says. "People use mixes, I know. They always come pitch to you, 'Hey, we’ve got this. You mix it with water, then you have a broth.'
I say, 'Why do I need that?' "
"If you eat the noodles, you'll taste the difference," Tran promises. "The protein is better. It's fresher." Tran will also use the machine to make Korean jjamppong hand-cut noodles and another Korean noodle that will be hand-pulled.
By locating the restaurant in one of Chinatown's busiest shopping centers, Tran hopes to attract a wide variety of customers who share his eclectic tastes. In particular, the robata offerings will include everything from chicken skin and gizzards to shrimp to vegetables.
"I just want to do something a little different than what I’ve been doing (at Aka)," Tran says, but he hopes current Aka customers will give Tiger Den a shot. "I’ll invite them for at least one dinner on me. I just want them to try it out."
As we finished our conversation, Tran offered me the chance to sample Tiger Den's spicy miso ramen. The broth had the signature milky color and creamy texture that comes from a 24-hour boil in the restaurant's gigantic 160 quart pot. Even more than the spicy broth, the noodles are a revelation. Their slightly alkaline flavor soaks up the broth, and they have a firm, slightly al-dente texture that's completely unlike anything else currently available in Houston.
Tiger Den may not be a dedicated ramen shop, but the first taste suggests it has real potential to be Chinatown's next must-visit destination.
As soon as Tran receives his beer and wine permit from TABC, he'll open the doors, and diners will get to decide for themselves.