Following two fall-winter seasons dishing out ramen at Northside Yacht Club’s weekly pop-up night, chef Hideki Harada and his wife Yuko have opened their own restaurant in College Hill named Kiki.
The concept of the restaurant is inspired by Japanese izakaya, a pub that serves food, where dishes aren’t necessarily held to strict tradition. “It’s great for us, because there are no rules on what you can serve,” Hideki says. “You can serve Italian food, Spanish—whatever you want, really. The base menu is predominantly Japanese, but with our own taste. We really just wanted to serve food that we both enjoy ourselves.”
Asian influences are most prevalent on the menu, like in the ramen, traditionally a Chinese dish; kimchi (a side item that’s also found in one of the two ramens), spicy fermented cabbage, popular in Korea; and curry pan—what Hideki refers to as a “curry doughnut”—a traditional Japanese snack most often found in the country’s convenience stores. A spin on the curry pan version some might be familiar with, the Haradas’ features a spicier curry, more akin to an Indian curry.
Between announcing in fall 2017 that he would be opening Kiki, Hideki fine-tuned and experimented with his recipes at seasonal weekly pop-up ramen nights at Northside Yacht Club. “I exercised my mind on all different kinds of ramen I could do, both vegetarian and meat,” he says. “It was kind of exhausting, but I took my ‘greatest hits’ and put them on the menu.”
Hideki says the broth and the marinated egg are the most important to creating a great ramen. On their menu are two ramens: one with a chicken broth base, pork belly, negi (scallions), a tea-marinated soft-boiled egg, and rayu (Japanese chile oil); and the other with housemade kimchi, tofu, negi, and a tea-marinated soft-boiled egg. Kiki currently outsources its noodles, but eventually, Hideki says, they plan to make them in house.
Joining other Japanese-influenced dishes is pepe meshi, what Hideki calls the “oddball” on the menu. “It’s kind of a starch overload, because there’s rice and pasta.” The porridge-like dish has a backstory, too: When Hideki lived in Osaka, he frequented an izakaya called Homura that served the dish, which he frequently ordered. He eventually promised the chef who served the dish that if he ever opened his own restaurant, he would put it on the menu. “I’m probably the only one serving such a weird dish in America,” Hideki says. “But it’s an ode to my own [past].”
Over the past two years, the Haradas have worked with the College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CHCURC) to secure grants and rehab the building from its former life as a bank. “The pop-ups helped a lot—the momentum from people from College Hill and Northside has been great,” he says. Hideki also took two trips to Japan for research and took odd restaurant jobs to generate income, but mostly, it was a lot of waiting, he says.
Though Hideki was apprehensive about starting a business in College Hill when first approached by CHCURC—before Brink Brewing Co. opened and a large apartment complex was built—he’s since become a true believer. He even relocated his family to the neighborhood. “I took a chance…. The people in College Hill are so warm, and they’re very supportive. It’s a good place.”
Kiki, 5932 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, (513) 541-0381