Vert Frais has opened in Long Island City, at 43-10 Crescent Street, at 43rd Avenue, a ramen bar with broth that late night fans of midnight ramen from Kanoyama by Sanshiro will remember well. In addition to ramen, the menu features European-Japanese yoshoku dishes from Nobuyuki Shikanai, the owner of Michelin-starred Kanoyama in the East Village.
The origins of destination-worthy ramen that was once only available late night goes something like this: In 2013, Midtown restaurant Seo started a late-night ramen pop-up, dubbed Sanshiro (after the comic book) with a red lantern to indicate it was open. After most restaurants closed, it drew an avid following among industry insiders — including Shikanai.
Shikanai’s omakase has been a Manhattan fixture since the early 2000s at his Little Tokyo restaurant: Kanoyama is still going strong, with an a la carte menu at tables and a $185 omakase each night with two seatings. Before moving to New York, back in Tokyo, Shikanai worked at a French restaurant inside the now-closed Le Meridien Pacific Hotel. At the age of 24, he moved to the U.S., and dug into his sushi training at Isi on the Lower East Side. In 2003, he took over the lease and turned the space into Kanoyama.
When Seo closed in 2017, Shikanai shuttled the Sanshiro ramen pop-up into Kanoyama, and added his own flair, boosting the umami in the broth. During the pandemic, he shut down the collab, and focused on keeping Kanoyama afloat.
Since then, Shikanai had been looking for a brick-and-mortar home for ramen, but he also missed the Japanese-style tea and coffee cafes he used to visit in Tokyo. Last year, he decided on this Long Island City location, partnering up with former Seo partner, Byungsud Chung. Having opened earlier this month, the restaurant serves as an all day cafe as well as a cocktail bar in a sleek and airy space with high ceilings, banana leaf wallpaper, and hanging vines.
The menu includes a handful of salads, breakfast, ramen, and mains; there are three ramen options available for now, with one of them vegan. For chicken broth, Shikanai simmers different parts of chicken and at least six other umami elements like dried scallop, shrimp, and mackerel for at least eight hours. Add white soy sauce to the broth and that becomes the base for the shio ramen; dark brown soy sauce produces the shoyu ramen. They’re both topped with char siu, radish sprouts, menma (fermented bamboo) and jammy egg. In the future, he’ll offer cold ramen and a Monday ramen omakase.
Vert Frais is not a ramen parlor alone. The menu includes Japanese omelets, wobbly soufflé pancakes; and hamburg steak — a thick beef patty, served with a long-simmered sauce of beef, carrots and celery — and per the virtues of yoshoku food, a choice of rice or bread.
Shikanai has also corralled an extensive drinks menu overseen by Yasuko Miyamoto, with ingredients like beet root powder, Vesta chocolate, and dried flowers alongside coffees and espressos sourced from Abraco in the East Village. Bar manager Haruka Nakagawa has concocted eight cocktails with housemade syrups from ingredients like Arabica gum, strawberries, and Indian long peppers.
Despite a growing menu, one thing’s for certain: “No sushi. That’s just for Kanoyama.”
Vert Frais is open Tuesday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.