Robbie Felice of Viaggio in Wayne and Osteria Crescendo and Luck Sarabhayavanija of Ani Ramen have spent the last year under wraps running an invite-only, limited seating, 10-course tasting menu that they coined Pasta Ramen.
The catch? They kept the experience completely secret. Felice or Sarabhayavanija were not named anywhere, they never posted an address, and what you ate was only revealed upon arrival. But now, the cat is out of the bag as they take their concept to Miami for the month of January to ring in the New Year.
It is a story of two successes, really. Sarabhayavanija’s Ani Ramen has pleased guests for years since opening their first location in Montclair back in 2014 by serving complex, but to-the-point bowls of ramen, bao buns, and other Japanese bites. In Juxtaposition, Felice’s Viaggio has wowed critics since its inception in 2016 with its offering of classic Italian food that is elevated by modern technique and local ingredients.
Both Felice and Sarabhayavanija saw instant success. Ani Ramen has studded New Jersey with seven locations total— that’s one per year since its opening— and several more poised to open in the coming months. Viaggio was instantly met with critical acclaim, and its popularity led to Felice’s second restaurant, Osteria Crescendo, opening in 2019.
Through all of the hard work and dedication, Felice and Sarabhayavanija have remained friends. And as good friends often do, they challenged each other to reach new heights. This is what ultimately led to their inevitable teaming up. Combining Japanese and Italian flavors was a challenge, sure, but it is also what I believe made Pasta Ramen take off immediately.
Felice knows how to cook, this isn’t a surprise to anyone who has eaten his food, but his skills were often limited to that of Italian recipes and flavors. “I love Italian food, but I love Japanese food just as much; maybe more. I wanted to prove to people that I am more than an Italian chef at the end of the day. This was a way for me to do that. People doubted me at first, but no one is doubting me now” Felice told me.
Still, Felice had to test the waters before bringing the idea to fruition. Last winter, Felice began dropping hints of what was to come through his Underground Tastings at Viaggio. Here is where he initially began to combine Italian and Japanese flavors, creating a style of food that he would eventually deem Wafu Italian. Felice told me then of plans to team up with Sarabhayavanija to create a concept by its own name. Not long after that, a spot was secured, and the invites started going out— Pasta Ramen was born.
In-house dry-aged A5 Wagyu beef, sesame ramen carbonara, cavatelli with soy pork ragu, and ravioli in porcini ramen broth are some of the dishes you may find when dining at Pasta Ramen. These are complex flavors to put up against one another, but the bridge between Japanese and Italian flavors is shorter than one might think. Both cuisines are abundant in umami, a Japanese word that directly translates to “essence of deliciousness”. It is a word to describe savoriness in food. In Japanese cooking, you may find this flavor in miso paste and bonito flakes. While in Italian cooking, umami can be found in Parmigiano Reggiano and tomatoes for example. This is something you will find in abundance at Ani Ramen, Viaggio, or Osteria Crescendo. For Felice and Sarabhayavanija, Wafu Italian defines friendship.
So, this leads to where we are now. Pasta Ramen has wowed guests for coming up on a year, and the risk-taking has paid off. But, with anything Felice seems to touch, the challenge here is over, and he is ready to challenge himself elsewhere. To do this, Pasta Ramen will be moving to Miami for the month of January, and the ostensibly unstoppable concept that Felice and Sarabhayavanija have created will take on a new city, far away from their beloved New Jersey.
As always, Pasta Ramen is miles ahead of the game, and Felice and Sarabhyavanija already have hearty plans for when they return from their trip. Pasta Ramen will open later this year as a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Montclair. However, in contrast to it’s normal 10-course, exclusive tasting menu, the spot will offer a fast-casual approach to Wafu Italian— something the two have yet to try. “It is going to be like if Viaggio and Ani Ramen had a baby,” Felice told me when describing plans for the Italian Ramen spot, “I live for making pasta, so why not do what I normally do with a different kind of noodle?” Felice continued.
A brick-and-mortar spot is great news because it offers a window into this concept that is infinitely more accessible. Of course, this leaves us wondering if the two have plans to bring the invite-only tasting menu to any other cities across the country or globe. We will just have to wait and see.