If you’d told me in 2017, when Doug Flicker closed Piccolo, our favourite restaurant in the Twin Ciites, that it would take us 3 years to finally make it out to his next spot, Bull’s Horn, I would not have believed you—even though I was ambivalent then about seeing Doug Flicker putting out diner food (like watching Michael Jordan play HORSE). And if you’d told me that when we did finally get around to Bull’s Horn it would be during a pandemic when takeout would be all they would be offering AND that what we’d get from them would be home assembly ramen kits I’d have thought you were crazy. But that is what we did, that is what we got and that is what we ate. And it was good. More than good: it was the best ramen we’ve yet had in Minnesota. That may seem like damning with faint praise but it’s not.
As I said, we have not yet been to Bull’s Horn in normal times. There is no good reason for this. We like diner food and we enjoy Chef Flicker’s food at Sandcastle, off the beach at Lake Nokomis, and there is approximately zero chance that his take on diner food at Bull’s Horn would be anything but excellent. And yet we have not yet been—call it a long coping process with the end of Piccolo. I do follow him on Instagram though and I noted his trip to Japan in January—at the same time that we were in India. And then last week he posted a video of him stirring a large vat of tonkotsu broth in slow motion and announced that Bull’s Horn would be serving a limited number of portions of home assembly tonkotsu ramen kits over the weekend. I called the next evening and secured four of the last five remaining kits.
You select your time of pickup when you place the order and so I arrived just after 6 to get ours. Payment is done at the time the order is placed and pickup is completely contactless. A member of the staff comes out and verifies the name on your order; when it’s ready it’s placed on a table in a brown paper bag whose top she then sprays with disinfectant; you take it home and follow the included instructions to prepare and assemble it; and then you are happy.
I had a 45 minute drive home after pickup but thanks to the home assembly model the food did not suffer from sitting in the car that long. I called the missus 20 minutes before arrival and she put a large pot of water on the boil and we were eating less than 15 minutes after I got home. The instructions are clear and comprehensive and there is no way you can fuck it up—though you can certainly plate your ramen more attractively than I did. Whether you succeed in plating it attractively or not, this is outstanding ramen. Better than anything we’ve had in Minnesota from ramen specialists and up there with the ramen we had at Ippudo in New York in August—or it would be if we had been able to eat it on premises rather than finished by ourselves at home (the noodles are the one thing that suffer from this process).
He’s not tried to arrogantly “perfect” or add some gratuitous cheffy flourishes to ramen, he’s just set out to make the best ramen in the traditional style that he can. The chashu/pork belly is just perfectly cooked and the broth is rich and thick with flavour and texture. Would it scale up if this was a full-time ramen-slinging operation? I don’t know. But right now it’s small batch, artisanal ramen made by a chef who is a master in his own tradition and respectful of the one he is immersing himself in. There is nothing dilettantish about any of this. In fact, it’s so good that I kind of want to sponsor a trip to India for him so he can eat kababs and biryani all over and come back and do a pop-up kababs and biryani shop.
Take a look at the slideshow below and scroll down for a few more details (price, the future of this thing and so on).
Price? $15 per kit plus tax. You can also get a can of sake for $6. [Comp alert: Chef Flicker threw in four cans of sake on the house.] This is not cheap in the abstract but we had no complaints. By the way, when you get your kit home and spread it out on a kitchen table you’ll think, hmmm this is going to be a very small portion. Then when you assemble it you’ll think, oh, that’s bigger than I thought it would be. And then when you’re done you’ll be completely full and satisfied. It’s a bit of a magic trick.
How long will this magic continue? As per Chef Flicker, it’s going to be a weekend-only thing for the foreseeable future. I believe this week’s edition is going to be a duck shoyu ramen. It’s hard to predict how many kits will be available each week—it all depends, he said, on how much the broth reduces before he is happy with it. So if you want some you should get your order in early. I can only hope that when all of this ends he will continue offering it as a cross-cultural add-on to Bull’s Horn’s regular menu. (That regular menu too is available for takeout now, by the way, though in a more pared-down form.)
As I’m not going to be making the drive again this weekend I can with zero hesitation recommend highly that you try to get your hands on some of this limited edition goodness. I will certainly be getting some more in the weeks ahead and when this shit ends we will also be visiting Bull’s Horn to eat their regular fare.