Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

First Look: Ki Ramen

After a series of successful pop-ups, chefs Domenic Branduzzi and Roger Li open their Lawrenceville ramen shop.

photos by hal b. klein


It took a bit longer than anticipated, but Ki Ramen, Domenic Branduzzi (Piccolo Forno, Grapperia) and Roger Li’s (Umami) Lawrenceville ramen bar, now is open.

"I mentioned years ago [in Pittsburgh Magazine] that Pittsburgh needed a good ramen place. I remember saying if someone doesn't do it I'll do it myself,” Branduzzi says.

It turns out he didn’t have to do it alone. Li, another longtime Lower Lawrenceville chef, had similar plans. "I did a pop-up at Grapperia, and there was a line out the door the whole time. Dom had already been mentioning to me that he wanted to do a ramen shop. So we took it from there,” he says. 

The two chefs decided to pair up, running a series of pop-ups at locations such as the former Salt of the Earth space (dubbed “Shio” for the event) and DiAnoia’s Eatery while they were working on the buildout of the Butler Street location. 

"We'd bounce ideas off each other about what we wanted to do. We tested a lot of recipes at the popups. [Now] we're using what worked and we’re tweaking what wasn't exactly how we wanted it to be,” Branduzzi says. 

Ki Ramen is divided into three sections. Head upstairs to the small ramen bar if you want to feel like you’re part of the action; chairs face directly into the open kitchen. The high-ceilinged main dining room is breezy and comfortable, but it was too bright until finally someone wisely decided to dim the lights around 10:30 pm. The downstairs bar feels underground even though garage doors open onto 44th Street; Branduzzi says they will project films onto a large wall in that section. 

At the center of every bowl is a helping of springy noodles that Branduzzi prepares in a Japanese-built Yamato Manufacturing noodle machine. "Having the noodle machine changes everything,” Li says, noting that most restaurants serve noodles manufactured by Sun Noodles. 

"Why take shortcuts? Let's do this from scratch all the way through,” Branduzzi adds.

Ki Ramen offered three broth preparations (curry, shio and shoyu) on the night I visited, with three more (miso, spicy beef and dan-dan) to be rolled out soon. Soup dumplings and bao buns also will be added to the small selection of not-ramen dishes. 

Curry ramen is my favorite of the current offerings. Lush with coconut milk, full of vegetables, buoyed by nori and enhanced with an add-on nori-chili butter-bomb, the vegetarian ramen a deeply satisfying bowl.

The other two ramens are solid and I suspect will get better as the flavor of their base stocks intensify over time. Li — who handles the broths — is working with master stocks for the pork-based shio and the chicken-based shoyu broths; peek toward the back of the kitchen, and you’ll see the two cauldrons set atop large burners. "These two [stoves] haven't shut off since we opened. We just add more bones, more water, more pig heads,” Li says.

In the meantime, I suggest adding a few shakes of MSG from one of the three seasoning containers (shichimi togarashi and a four-pepper blend are the other two) on the table to help bring out the full flavor of the broths. Props to Ki Ramen for offering MSG shakers. 

Li says that the restaurant will remain in a soft-open phase for the next couple of weeks as he and Branduzzi roll out the rest of the menu items and fill a few staffing needs. Lunch service will eventually be offered, and there’s a possibility of even later-night dining (the restaurant already serves until midnight every day it’s open) on the weekends. 

[4401 Butler St., Lawrenceville; kiramenpgh.com]

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

5 Great Ways to Enjoy Picklesburgh

The city’s fourth annual pickle festival will feature more food, more music and even pickle-inspired beers.

Wow Factor: Empty Nest Inspires Timeless Makeover

When her last child graduated from college, Ingrid Meenen did something she had been wanting to do for 20 years — renovate the first floor of her Upper St. Clair home.

Perfect Proposals that Flashed Back to First Dates

Return to your roots before your relationship blooms into a beautiful marriage.

Three of Pittsburgh’s Green Spaces Nominated for National List

Some of the city’s parks could earn a spot on the National Register of Historic Places by 2020. So why should you care?

Watch: Mister Rogers' Wonderful Sense of Humor

We stumbled upon this old clip of Fred Rogers' appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” in February of 1982. It includes an amusing clip in which Mister Rogers loses a wrestling match with a tent.

Stop Using Uber and Lyft, Renting a Bike is Better

You'll save money and have an easier time hopping between neighborhoods on a Healthy Ride bicycle.

America’s “Gratest” Celebration of Cheese is Coming to Pittsburgh

Sample cheese of every rind during the American Cheese Society’s annual Festival of Cheese.

The 400-Word Review: Skyscraper

If you want "Die Hard" with half the brains but three times the building, the new Dwayne Johnson flick will do a passing job.

A Pop-Up Bar in Pittsburgh that Serves a Sober Alternative

Empath provides the vibe and social space of a bar, as well as stepped up beverage service ... without the alcohol.

Watch: 12 Questions with WTAE's Sally Wiggin

The WTAE anchor was voted Best Journalist by readers of Pittsburgh Magazine. She answers 12 random questions ranging from her most memorable vacation to who should portray her in a movie.

Tax Credit Brought Mister Rogers Flick to Pittsburgh

The granting of the credit means the majority, if not most of the movie starring Tom Hanks, will indeed be shot in the Pittsburgh area.

Compelling World Cup Worth a Periodic Embrace

The competition is as fierce as the fans are passionate and both can be appreciated without a firm grasp of the details.

Jeff Goldblum Day is Causing a Stir in the ’Burgh

Local venues will be celebrating the native actor Friday with Goldblum-themed merchandise and events.

Willow Restaurant in the North Hills Lands a New Chef

Aaron Allen comes to Willow by way of 2-star Daniel in New York City. Plus, Greta Harmon joins the staff of the Ohio Township hideaway as the restaurant's new bar manager.

Pittsburgh Developer Offers Location for Riverfront Swings

A developer in the South Side may fulfill KDKA anchor Ken Rice’s wish for shaded benches along the city’s riverfronts.