Chef Lawrence Talis, and the team behind the uber-popular Blue Steel Pizza Company, have returned with their newest addition to Bloomfield’s downtown: 7 Doors Down Ramen Co. is conveniently located seven doors down the street from Blue Steel. It is Talis and Head Chef Luis Blasini’s take on a contemporary ramen shop.
They specialize in a cuisine called Nikkei, which combines the flavors and ingredients of Peru with the techniques of Japanese cooking. This concept might seem strange like it’s the latest addition to a long list of boring, overdone fusion cuisine. In reality, it’s anything but. Nikkei cooking has been prevalent in Peru for nearly a century, and the term originally defined any Japanese immigrant in a foreign land. Today, the term is more closely associated with the cuisine, which is enjoyed worldwide, sometimes to one’s oblivion.
“It isn’t fusion,” Blasini, a first-generation American whose family immigrated from Huancayo, Peru, told me. This distinction became abundantly clear, as the food makes more sense than fusion— which oftentimes seems fine in theory but when translated to a plate is dreadful. Instead, it is the amalgamation of two cultures into one, homogeneous cuisine.
Peru is a consolidation of many cultures, with each one uniquely adding to the cuisine of the land. People of Chinese descent outnumber the Japanese, for example. Their cuisine, called Chifa, has its own story and interwoven history. However, it is the Japanese diaspora that immigrated to Peru around the turn of the 20th century that worked towards creating what we now know as Nikkei cooking.
Ceviches, which at one time consisted of fish that was marinated overnight, became a dish lighter in flavor through the influence of Japanese techniques. Raw fish is tossed with a citrus mixture called Leche de Tigre—which literally translates to “Tiger Milk”—right before serving. This allows the qualities of the fish to remain true to form, with slight alterations in texture and flavor. At 7 Doors Down, Blasini and Talis take their ceviche to levels that are unheard of in the states.
The hamachi ceviche is a prime example of this mastery. Freshly diced yellowtail is quickly marinated in their house Leche de Tigre. Veering from the path of a traditional leche, which is oftentimes seasoned with fish scraps and celery in addition to the citrus, 7 Doors opts to go all in on the Nikkei style by upping the acidity and adding mirin— a Japanese rice wine. This mixture becomes their base and can be adjusted accordingly for each specific dish.
For the hamachi, the Leche de Tigre is fortified with mezcal, orange, poppy seeds and yuzu kosho— a fermented paste made from chiles and yuzu. The fish is combined with the liquid, diced beets, mint and orange segments before being topped with a crispy beet tuile. The dish you are left with defines the concept at 7 Doors perfectly. The acidity and overall flavor of the mixture is married with a layer of textures that leaves you with nothing to be desired. It is a ceviche that I would happily eat for the rest of my life.
While the hamachi brings a myriad of ingredients to the table, the tuna sashimi takes a more simplistic approach. Sashimi slices of tuna are plated in a pool of Leche de Tigre that is blended with soy sauce. The fish is topped with caramelized pineapple, sliced black truffle and kumquat. I was skeptical of the truffle— an ingredient I often feel brings more harm than good, but the earthy, meaty flavor was met by bright sweetness from the pineapple, a bitter sourness from the kumquat, and salinity from the soy. This combination was fresh and addicting. Much more akin to a sushi-style appetizer, the tuna at 7 Doors Down perfectly encapsulates the marriage of two distinct cultures’ foods into a cognate cuisine.
Papas a la Huancaina and Salchipapas are dishes reminiscent of Blasini’s childhood. “I was born in Jersey, but I grew up in the kitchen with my aunt and grandma,” he told me. It was in those formative years that he picked up his skills and passion for Peruvian cuisine and food in general. The versions of these dishes at 7 Doors Down certainly take a contemporary approach. Fried potatoes take the place of the normally boiled potatoes you would find in papas a la huancaina, and a sauce of aji amarillo and cheddar cheese dresses the potatoes which are served with saltine crackers— an homage to the original.
In a traditional Salchipapas, pan-fried sausage is served with french fries and coleslaw. Salchipapas is a classic Peruvian street food, but has spread to much of South America. It is meant to come together fast and be eaten on-the-go. Talis and Blasini take Kurobuta sausages— a Japanese sausage made from the Berkshire hog— and fry them with soy-smoked potatoes. The sausage and potato medley is placed atop a bed of roasted tomato sauce with pickled mustard seeds and kewpie mayo. The dish, which is normally served with a variety of condiments, uses the seeds and tomato to emulate the commonly seen ketchup and mustard.
Now, the ceviche and inventive small plates at 7 Doors Down are undoubtedly remarkable, but the ramen is deserving of equal praise. At Talis’ Blue Steel Pizza Co., a duck ramen has found a spot on the menu as a mainstay. I remember eating it for the first time and thinking to myself “Wow, this dude can make ramen.” So, when I discovered he was opening a spot with noodles as one of the focuses, my expectations were high.
Talis and Blasini delivered.
The ramen at 7 Doors Down is in the same ballpark as some of the best ramen that the East Coast has to offer. The chicken ramen, for example, features roasted chicken stock, braised chicken thigh that is finished on the grill before being shredded, and a soy marinated egg. The egg, complete with a runny yolk, shows flashes of Nikkei cooking due to a marinade of soy sauce and aji panca— a Peruvian dried pepper that is mahogany in color and sweet with a hint of mild spice. This simple bowl of ramen floored me. The broth was deeply flavored with rich, roasted chicken flavor and the shio tare (salt water mixture for flavoring ramen broth) was a perfect way to enhance the dish without overpowering any of the brilliant components.
The tonkotsu is a crave-worthy bowl. Literally translating to “pork bone”, tonkotsu utilizes a rich broth made from marrow filled pork bones. Sous Chef Bill Sanders, who is in charge of making all of the stocks at 7 Doors Down, simmers these bones for hours allowing the collagen to release into the liquid producing a broth that is thick and creamy in texture. The mouth-feel on a properly made tonkotsu is unachievable through other methods. The broth is fulfilling on its own, but Talis combines it with a red miso blend to both season and add more body. It is luscious and the closest thing I’ve found in my life to “liquid gold.” Ramen noodles are bathed in this gold, and topped with a soy-panca egg, bamboo shoots, enoki mushrooms and several pieces of braised Snake River Farms pork belly.
Other ramen specialties at 7 Doors Down include a Tokyo Ramen, which combines pork and chicken stock as its base. Or the short rib ramen, which features a 48-hour braised wagyu short rib and candied shallots.
We get it, it’s summer and you might not want to eat a steaming bowl of ramen right now. Luckily, 7 Doors Down has you covered with a list of other thoughtful entrees— all playing on the Nikkei theme.
The chicken katsu features a panko crusted chicken cutlet with fermented vegetables, house potato salad, and Bulldog Sauce: a must have for any katsu.
Lomo Saltado is a popular stir fried beef dish in Peru. With obvious roots in both Chinese and Japanese cuisine, Lomo Saltado features strips of beef, tomato, and french fries. At 7 Doors Down, the crew takes sirloin and grills it over charcoal— a deviation from the original. The meat is sliced and topped with french fries, stir fried tomatoes, onion and an aji amarillo aioli.
For the adventurous eater, 7 Doors Down offers a Chef’s Tasting menu at their bar overlooking the open kitchen. Chef Blasini or Chef Talis will prepare a one-of-a-kind experience that takes you through Peruvian and Japanese flavors seamlessly. A tasting menu is the perfect opportunity to experience off-menu items that define what 7 Doors Down is conceptually.
Whatever it may be that catches your eye on the 7 Doors Down menu, you can rest assured it will be jam-packed with flavor and clever approach. Talis and Blasini work in tandem, playing off one another’s experience and expertise, to craft a menu that is impressive and loaded with playfully ingenious options. It is a place you can stop in to have ceviche and a bowl of ramen, or a restaurant where you can have a full-blown tasting menu experience.
7 Doors Down Ramen Co. brings a much-needed burst of creativity to Bloomfield’s dining scene.
About the Author/s
Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.