High Five Ramen
Author: Andy Huff
I don’t think I’ve ever left a restaurant with as many conflicting feelings as I left High 5 Ramen. They did more right and had more stand out elements than any other ramen place in Chicago. And yet, I don’t think I enjoyed the experience on the whole.
Let’s start with the good--and there was a lot of it. When you walk in, the music and environment perfectly set the mood. The space is a dimly lit basement, with a small kitchen you can see from most of the seats in the restaurant. The small space means that you can smell the richness of the pork belly as soon as you walk in the room. My mouth immediately started to water, thinking of the rich, porky goodness I was sure to receive. When I walked in, they were playing Endtroducing, a dark, atmospheric instrumental hip hop album that finished off the warm and intimate feeling the space triggered. I felt relaxed the second I walked in the room, and in the end, what is ramen but perhaps the ultimate comfort food?
From there, most of the food was prepared excellently. The soft boiled egg was served whole and was well seasoned, with a thick yet liquidy yolk that oozed out perfectly as I used my spoon to cut it in half. The noodles had a nice firm texture with a slightly salty and nutty flavor, which kept them as a distinct flavor from the rest of the broth. Most importantly, the pork belly had a great smokey flavor and the fat melted into my mouth.
With all that was done right however, one mistake undid almost all of the positives of the restaurant. This was the broth. HIgh 5 says their signature ramen is their spicy broth. To get this spice, they use a chilli oil which is also heavy in Sichuan peppercorn. The first issue with this is that, despite the repeated warnings of my waiter, the broth is not spicy. There is some numbing from the peppercorn, but very little detectable capsaicin. More problematic however, is the level of bitterness from the oil. The closest thing I can describe to the bitterness of this broth was it tasted like if somebody had poured three or four shots of espresso into my ramen. This extreme bitterness strongly clashed with the richness from the pork broth, causing a jarring and unwelcome combination of flavors.
Overall, I think I will give High 5 another chance someday. The rest of the ingredients were good enough that I still think a different broth choice could have made it the best ramen in the city. That said, when you call a dish your signature dish, and it is so poorly made as to negate all the positives the restaurant has built, I can’t help but be disappointed. I would try the restaurant for yourself, but if you do, avoid the signature ramen. Hopefully the other broths would lead to a more satisfying end to what should have been a great experience.