There was a collective groan when Rumplings Slurp Shop, the ramen darling in the Highlands, closed a year and a half ago.
But the heart and soul of Rumplings was chef Griffin Paulin, who late last year brought us Mirin, a different sort of Asian fusion restaurant focused on fast service and quality food from a succinct menu. Located in the familiar Frankfort Avenue location that once housed Shiraz Mediterranean Grill, Mirin echoes Rumplings in many ways.
Based on my first visit recently, I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t develop into a long-term Clifton mainstay.
The place doesn’t look a lot different from Shiraz in its heyday, but with only four tables in the small dining space and two long rows of bar seating on the perimeter of the space. Décor is quite spare, with the menu on a chalkboard next to a Mirin logo in chalk.
There isn’t even a sign on the exterior of the building (well, at least not yet). Chefs work in plain view in the small kitchen area that is set off by a brick oven as you order at the counter.
The menu, excluding random specials, consists of four ramen/noodle dishes, two banh mi dishes, a selection of three bao, and three specialty items: tsukune (sort of a Japanese meatball) and egg, bibim guksu, and an Asian take on poutine.
And even with so few items, it isn’t easy to order, because you’ve got traditional ramen with chashu pork, but there’s also roasted duck dotting the menu. I mean, roasted duck. I finally decided on a single roasted duck bao as a starter, followed by spicy double soup featuring Thai bird chilies.
The bao came out within three or four minutes of my sitting down; there were only a couple of other people in the place at the time, but it was still pretty impressive. The presentation was above your usual fast-casual experience, with the bao — which is sort of like a Chinese slider, if you will — served open-faced, garnished with red cabbage slaw on a square white plate.
The sandwich made with a sweet white bread contained more slaw, a cucumber slice and a small serving of pulled duck. The delicious, tender duck contrasts with the crispy slaw and cucumber, and although it’s only four or five bites’ worth of food, it’s a worthy starter.
Continuing with the fast service, before I was able to finish off my bao, my bowl of noodles was delivered to my table in a clay bowl, topped with two egg halves cooked soft so the yolk remained runny. Green onion floated atop one half of the bowl and thick strips of fatty pork lined the other, with Thai chili sauce directly in the center, making for a balanced and colorful first impression.
I used chopsticks to first try out the thick, dense but tender noodles. The flavor of the broth came to life, and then I began to mix the blend of ingredients together to get the full effect. For my heat-seeking palate, the chilies really made this dish shine, but every aspect of it was pleasing.
Egg yolk, of course, is always a winner, but the blend of pork juice, onions and other spices gave this hearty dish a lasting impression. The pork, meanwhile, was cooked so thoroughly that it literally broke apart nearly on contact before dissolving on the tongue.
If you like ramen, you already know this, but don’t be afraid to slurp those noodles, not to mention the broth. Go ahead, unleash your inner 9-year-old. And be sure to get plenty of broth when you take bites of the pork and the eggs, because that only enhances the flavor profile and enjoyment of the dish.
I was fighting until the end to get every last drop of the broth, and the flavor only intensified as I got to the bottom of the bowl where many of the chilies lurked. The question then became whether to pick up the bowl and drink the remains or not. My thought is this: Life is short; slurp like nobody’s watching.
The spicy double noodle dish I enjoyed, at $16, is the highest price point on the menu. Vegetarian ramen is $12, while tonkotsu ramen (also made with pork) is $14. The prices pushed my meal close to $20, which I thought pushed the envelope just a bit, but I’m never above paying for quality, and that meal was quality. Cheers to Paulin for bringing this eatery to the Louisville dining scene.
Mirin is located at 2011 Frankfort Ave. It is open Monday through Thursday, 5-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight.