Syracuse noodle house is a hot spot
By Christopher Malone
Kasai Ramen, located at 218 Walton St. in Syracuse, is cozy in Armory Square. A few years ago, owner Kyle Mastropietro opened up the Japanese-inspired restaurant where the former Opus and Daniel Jacks once resided. Although Walton is a notable, popular downtown street, Kasai is tucked into the quaint western end and shaded by trees.
Walking in the doors, Kasai doesn’t scream Japanese or ramen restaurant. There isn’t an effort to create a facade, no gratuitous amount of cookie-cutter, faux Japanese décor — thankfully — especially since the owners are not of that culture. Mastropietro didn’t take incredible aesthetics for granted: the beautiful exposed brick, the two-floor layout, and that spiral staircase.
If unfamiliar with ramen or Japanese cuisine, there’s something for everyone. Fear not the octopus or eel, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Kasai isn’t afraid of hot peppers either. Hottest to the mildest — reaper, scorpion, ghost, habanero and chili are ingredients scattered throughout the menu.
With that said, I ordered the spiciest options on the menu. Let it be known — and others can attest — my version of what’s hot or spicy is different than a typical person. However, I do recognize when too much heat can ruin food.
I started with crab cakes ($9). Two (the description says “large” but I’d say “medium”) hearty crab cakes sat on a bed of greens and came dressed in eel sauce and Ssamjang (spicy Korean paste) aioli. As packed as the cakes were, they were very light. This is a perfect starter for two people — maybe three or four depending on if you like to share. There was slight heat from the aioli but just enough.
Octopus bombs are crispy-coated balls of the cephalopod and spinach risotto ($8). My wife attested — she enjoyed these in Japan on holiday years ago. If you didn’t know these contained octopus, you wouldn’t have picked up on it — minus the few chewy bits. The four golf ball-sized bombs are served with an eel and pineapple ghost sauce. Without the sauce, these perfectly crispy seafood risotto balls are really delicious. The sauce adds a well-balanced sweet heat. Although the ghost does make an appearance, it’s not a jump-scare or overwhelming.
Each of Kasai’s steam buns are $4 each, but the barbecue brisket bun caught my attention. I can’t say no to crispy burnt ends, melt-in-your-mouth fat, nor the reaper sweet barbecue sauce and yuzu slaw (with spicy Japanese chili pepper sauce). Again, there’s a great balance of sweetness and heat. The reaper, the hottest pepper on the menu, wasn’t strong enough to claim a life. The soft, white, moist bun is probably to thank for lessening the peppery blow.
These steam buns are also small, like half the size of a standard taco. Some may think this is pricy; however, the flavor-packed savory flavor is worth it.
Going down the menu, cue the short rib goyza ($12). These pan-fried dumplings were packed with short rib, which may have been an issue. But the dumplings were also very thin and were falling apart before my chopsticks touched them. They fell apart when I picked them up and short rib spilled out into a pile or in the bowl of soy sauce. Still, the flavor was really good. The short rib was tender and far from dry.
Finally — to the ramen. Although I was torn between the smokehouse and diablo bowls, I opted for the latter. Its description reads: “Habenero honey shredded chicken, six-minute egg, kimchi, enoki mushroom and scallions over ghost, scorpion and reaper pepper-infused noodles, in a Satan’s Blood chile miso shiro broth.” In capital letters: “Warning!!! This bowl brings the heat!”
You’re probably wondering how I ate this. My wife did. I even questioned it. Through the beads of sweat running down my face and into my eyes, I ate it slowly and over two meals. I can honestly admit, this was one of the hottest dishes I’ve enjoyed. And, for as spicy as Kasai’s diablo bowl was, there was an equal amount of flavor.
To end the meal and calm my burning mouth—matcha custard ($6). The light, creamy custard with caramel on top was the perfect dessert.
After adding in a couple beers, the total with tip was under $95. It’s surprisingly affordable for the amount of food I enjoyed. Plus, it wasn’t overly filling.
Kudos to Kasai, I enjoyed your unofficial spicy challenge and survived.
218 Walton St., Syracuse, NY 13202
(315) 310-8500 | kasairamen.com
Tues.–Sat.: 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.
Fri.: 11:30 a.m.–midnight
Sat.: 4 p.m.–midnight
Photo: Hearty crab cakes at Kaisai sit on a bed of greens dressed in eel sauce and Ssamjang (spicy Korean paste) aioli.