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Dassara's Josh Kaplan on Celebrities and Ramen Fanatics

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The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that work the host station at some of New York's most popular restaurants.
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[Daniel Krieger]
Josh Kaplan tried every single ramen restaurant in New York City before opening his own Carroll Gardens ramen shop, Dassara. But instead of sticking to the classic Japanese recipes, Josh and his partners decided to throw in elements of other cuisines and incorporate seasonal ingredients that you don't usually find in most types of ramen. So far, the critics and the neighbors like what's coming out of the kitchen. Josh works the door of his restaurant several nights a week.

What is the busiest time of the week at Dassara? Friday and Saturday nights during prime-time, you're looking at an hour or an hour and a half.

How do you tell a customer that they will have to wait for an hour? Carefully. You want to soften the blow, I guess. You try and entice people to stick around and hope that they will deem it to be worthy of the wait. I've been to places where it's almost like the customer feels privileged to be on the wait list, and we are definitely not that. From my partner Justin to myself on down, we're all a bunch of nerds, and I expect the same kind of friendliness and enthusiasm from our staff.

How do you describe your clientele? Yeah, we're a neighborhood restaurant. Early on, we had a lot of the ramen fanatics coming to try us out, particularly because we had a different concept. Now, we've kind of grown into who we are, and I think we've found our clientele. It's very "neighborhood." You have a lot of these people that come in from different parts of the city with expectations, and we had a joke around the restaurant that "We're not Minca." We just could not get away from that comparison, and we don't aspire to do that. I guess if people came in with that expectation, that could be difficult. Like, we had a lot of people that came in wanting tonkotsu, but we only do tonkotsu in the winter. We have different proteins that we do throughout the seasons, so they would just be upset.

Who are your favorite customers? My favorite customers are the neighborhood regulars that really like to come in on a random night and hang out. They're kind of part of the family. Those are the people where you smile when they walk in the door.

Have you spotted any celebrities? One night Mike D was at the bar watching a Knicks game with us, that was pretty cool. And Jonathan Ames was in the other night.

Have there been any requests that you have not been able to accommodate? Early on, during one of our first brunches, we had a mother ask if she could change her baby's diaper on a table. Now, we go out of our way to accommodate requests, whatever that might be, but that was one where I had to respectfully decline.

How did the deli ramen come together? I had the idea for a long time. When I tried my first chicken ramen, my first thought was, "This is like a chicken matzo ball soup on steroids, but there are no matzo balls in it." And it kind of made sense to replace ch?sh?, like you would in a normal chicken ramen, with smoked meat. I've been a huge fan of Mile End, and really the only thing left was just to make contact with Noah Bernamoff. That was facilitated by one of our cooks, Cathy Erway.

The author Cathy Erway? Yeah, she's an author and a blogger, but also a good friend of mine. She's been with us since the beginning. She's a cook here, and she made the connection. Noah and Rae have just been so supportive of our business.

Where do you like to eat when you're not at Dassara? I eat a lot, as a part of research and development. But lately, I'm fortunate enough to work down the street from two of the best cooks in the city, so I absolutely go to Battersby quite a bit. I've been to The Pines for brunch and dinner — chef Angelo is a beast. Really, really good. I had dinner at Gotham Bar and Grill a few weeks ago, and I could not believe the level of cooking they do there. I know that they are a three-star place, but the meal I had there was better than some four-star meals I've had.

Do you get any chefs from the neighborhood in the restaurant? Yeah, it's crazy, actually. Carroll Gardens has a pretty incredible roster of really, really talented chefs and cooks that live in the neighborhood. We've had the chef de cuisine from Del Posto, we've had the executive chef from Egg and Parish Hall...I'll just randomly talk up some guy at the bar, and it ends up being someone that I respect and admire.

What are the must-order dishes here? I'm always the most excited about our newer items, so I'd say definitely keep tabs on the specials. And if you've never been here before, I think the chicken is important to try. But I hope that it's the type of place that warrants return visits, and that you're willing to explore the things that we're doing at any given season.

· All Coverage of Dassara [~ENY~]

Dassara

271 Smith St., New york, NY

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