Ramen has come a long way since my college days of buying the 10-for-$1 dried packs that sustained me on many an all-nighter. The chicken flavor with chopped up Vienna sausages was the epitome of high dining back then.
Ramen also seems to be having a resurgence in Jacksonville. Ramen shops are popping up all over the city with Crane Ramen in 5 Points, Modu Ramen in Southside, Hangar Bay Café in Mayport, and now DOMU, the celebrated Orlando restaurant has taken root in St Johns Town Center. DOMU opened with great fanfare and long lines in August 2018. I decided to wait a bit and let the crowds die down before I visited.
DOMU is located in The Strand, one of the newer shopping areas in the ever expanding Town Center. It is a beautiful space with a very modern feel, clean lines, colorful décor, and greenery by the bar. The wall opposite the entrance features a huge floral mural. The staff is young, hip, and good-looking. DOMU has a brand in mind and they do a great job maintaining it. I never felt older or less attractive in my life.
Despite that, we started with a Lychee Martini. It was happy hour, but none of the happy hour specials drew me like that simple and straightforward glass of Tito’s Vodka, lychee juice, simple syrup, and lychee boba. This beauty was as pretty as it was tasty. I’m going to have a hard time ordering something different next time.
Ramen is, of course, the main event at DOMU, but they also offer a variety of small plates equally as creative and delicious. We decided to order a few small plates and a bowl of their signature ramen.
I’ve heard glowing things about the DOMU Wings ($9), so those were the first thing on my list to try. DOMU Wings are fried and then tossed in a kimchi butter sauce. It’s Buffalo Wings by way of Korea. These wings lived up to the hype. The fry was beautiful; crispy and when bitten into, a crunch that can be heard from the other side of the restaurant. The kimchi butter wasn’t as spicy as I thought it would be. It had a smooth flavor with just a little heat to remind you that these aren’t Buffalo’s wild wings.
Up next we ordered the Fingerling Bravas ($6). Bravas are dish native to Spain. Normally they’re white potatoes cut into irregular cubes, fried, and served with a spicy tomato sauce. DOMU’s version uses fingerling potatoes, cut into irregular cubes, fried, and served with Japanese spices, a spicy Kewpie mayo, sour cream, and chives. Normally the fried potatoes are tossed in the Japanese spices and spicy Kewpie mayo, but we were told the mayo is on the higher level of spicy, so we ordered it on the side so we could dip as much or as little as we wanted. It’s hard to go wrong with fried potatoes and these did not disappoint. The potatoes were crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. The spicy mayo was indeed on the spicy side, particularly on the back end and probably about two levels higher than a jalapeño, so I was thankful for the sour cream to help temper it.
We had heard how great the Black Truffle Burrata ($8) was, served with yuzu gelee and torched tomato so we gave that a try. The burrata itself was enjoyable with the infusion of truffle, the torched tomato was picturesque with chopped Thai basil on top, but we found the yuzu gelee to be an odd texture coupled with the soft burrata. If you love burrata you may enjoy this, but we’ll skip it next time.
The Cheezus ($6) was our next stop on the tour. It’s a skillet of fresh corn cut off the cobb, kewpie mayo, mozzarella, spices, and lime. This indulgent cheesy dish is one of the cheapest on the menu and perfect for sharing. It looks impressive and the quality of ingredients really work together to make a delightful swirl of textures and flavors in your mouth. We universally loved it, but don’t miss the squeeze of lime with each bite. That really takes it to the next level. I actually started thinking about how to recreate this dish for football viewing purposes this weekend while still eating it at the restaurant….
The next small plate was the Tako ($9). It’s grilled octopus with Yuzu Kosho, crispy smashed fingerlings potatoes, micro greens, radish, and yuzu mayo. I normally love octopus, but I did not like these at all. It was the least favorite thing we ate by far. However, it was plated beautifully. The radishes added a nice pop of red to compliment the green plate. The yuzu mayo ever so lovingly added in little droplets in descending sizes. The fingerling potatoes acted as a base for the octopus and the micro greens on top gave the dish depth and elevation. However, it smelled horrible. The smell I can only describe as a week’s worth of morning breath mixed with the scent of those little tonsil rocks that get stuck in the back of your throat and just a hint of a pro athlete’s lucky socks that never gets washed during the playoffs. I couldn’t figure out what was putting out that smell. It was as if the octopus had gone rancid. I thought maybe it was the Yuzu Kosho as it’s a fermented ingredient. Maybe it went a little long on the fermentation. I’ve had things that smelled “bad,” but ended up being tasty. This was not one of those dishes. The awful smell permeated all my senses and what I smelled was what I tasted. I ate about two pieces of octopus before I gave up. We let the wait staff know about the offensive smell. I’m not sure if they decided to smell what was left on the plate when they cleared it.
So while the Tako was horrible, I didn’t come for the small plates. I came for the ramen. DOMU prides itself on making all their noodles in house. No dried noodles here. DOMU serves classic Ramen staples like Tonkotsu and Yuzu Chicken as well as their own creations not found anywhere else. I tried the Tokyo Ramen ($13), one of their in-house creations. It’s a Shoyu chicken broth, with a fried chicken thigh, ajitama brulee, kikurage (wood ear mushroom), seared garlic chives, infused duck fat, and garlic scallion confit. The broth is what makes or breaks a Ramen bowl. The Shoyu chicken broth was absolutely fantastic. The duck fat shimmered beautifully in the broth. The fresh noodles soaked in all the flavor of the broth. As you slurped it up, the taste didn’t end when you swallowed the broth, but lasted until every noodle was finished in the bite. The fried chicken thigh was tender and tasted amazing. The real surprise was the ajitama brulee. Normally in ramen you get an ajitama or a half soft boiled egg. On its own, it’s a very good thing with a slightly soft white and a beautiful custard-y yolk mixing with the rest of the ramen. DOMU’s take on the ajitama is topped with a little sugar and bruleed. The result is a kick of sweet in a sea of deep savory-ness and umami. It was genius and made me look down at my bowl hoping the other half of that egg was in there somewhere. Next time, I’m ordering an extra ajitama brulee with my ramen. After eating everything in the bowl, I turned that thing up and drank the broth straight. I didn’t care who saw me. . .#YOLO.
My dining partner had the Miso Ramen. It looked innocuous enough on the menu with chasu, corn, bean sprouts, scallions, kikurage again, and komi oil. The Miso Ramen is served with either butter or a spice bomb. We went with butter for a bit of a creamy touch, and to save our pitiful tastebuds. DOMU serves dishes as they come out, but the Miso Ramen was the last dish to come out, a good 20 minutes after the Tokyo Ramen. That’s not normal and definitely some sort of foul up. When the Miso Ramen arrived it had a strong smoky smell and then flavor at first bite. It wasn’t bad, just strong and unexpected. The chasu pork belly was tender and melt in your mouth good. If you like smoky flavors this is for you.
Overall, my visit to the much hyped DOMU was sort of successful. I would probably avoid the Tako. While it was the first time I ordered it, I would be scared to order it again as the smell turned me off of that dish forever. The most important thing is that the Ramen is fantastic. It is absolutely worth a return visit. Small plates are great for those in your party not about the Ramen life with the DOMU wings undoubtedly earning their praise.
If you’re in the mood for Ramen and Chicken flavored Top Ramen with sliced Vienna sausages isn’t doing it for you, DOMU will certainly satiate.
4852 Town Center Pkwy #101
Jacksonville, FL 32246