Futo Buta Review

 Photo by Maximillian Parker

Photo by Maximillian Parker

If you haven't been to Futo Buta's yet, you should be heading there right now.  Futo Buta serves a well-crafted and engaging array of Japanese-inspired noodles, rice dishes, and small plates with enough variety to warrant a return.  Or in my case, many returns.

Since May 2015, I've eaten here a few dozen times at least.  I like it a lot.  And while I haven't tried everything on the menu, I've tried most things.  They're good.  Very good.

I'll be up front about this: I adore noodles with broth in almost any form, especially those of the Japanese variety.  It's my desert island food.  When this restaurant by Michael Shortino (formerly of Roka Akor and BAKU) was announced two years ago, the excitement was real.  The few ramen options available in town were underwhelming and public opinion was calling for something to fill the void.

Chef Shortino makes everything he feasibly can in-house and with local ingredients whenever possible.  The stocks and noodles, by far the most important offerings here, are all made from scratch on-site.  While none of the dishes are what a purist would call traditional, they're not meant to be, so let's dispense with that concern now - what Chef Shortino gives us is an authentic and creative take on Japanese cuisine.

 Photo by Maximillian Parker

Photo by Maximillian Parker

As for the food, here's what I would recommend - ramen, of course.  Their ramen bowls, the main feature of the menu, are tasty, filling, and well-rounded.  My personal preference tends towards the Shoyu, a chicken and dashi broth with smoked pork belly slices and the usual toppings of a soft eggs and various veggies.

The Tonkotsu, or pork bone broth, is probably the most common form of ramen.  At Futo Buta it's good, but I prefer a leaner broth to offset the meatiness of the pork belly.  If you're not partial to pig, the poached chicken and/or duck confit make fine substitutions (or additions) to the pork belly.  

On my last visit I sampled the Niwa, their vegan offering, and was pleasantly surprised.  The broth had a clarity one would expect from a vegan broth but was simultaneously dense and rich with an oily finish.  The only issue I had with this vegetable-laden bowl was that, while beautifully presented, the toppings were awkward to eat.  Beautiful but unpractical, it was frustrating for a dish usually served without a knife.

If it all sounds good, try the Buta Bowl.  The Buta Bowl is the monster of the menu - a huge bowl with double noodles, all the toppings, and most of the meats.  I love it.

Outside of the ramen, the appetizers and small plates are mostly good, if not especially original.  The Tori Kara Age, small nuggets of fried chicken, is quite satisfying and great to share but the mayo sauce that accompanies it is a little flat.  The shishito peppers are well-seasoned and dressed with just enough vinegar to offset the soy sauce's salt.

A couple things, though, fell flat.  The Kurobuta Pork & Scallop Gyoza was bland and plain, indistinguishable from mass-produced versions.  A recent addition of Tempura Mushroom and Cauliflower sounded great but was unremarkable.  I only knew what I was eating because I knew what I was eating.

For drinks, there's a solid beer and sake menu, a few wines, Mexican Coke, Cheerwine, and a house-made strawberry lemonade.  Dessert is nice; a couple of inventive flavors of house soft-serve.

As for the ambiance, the decor is fairly trendy but well executed.  The restaurant itself is small and busy, with only a few seating options.  Besides the large and comfortable patio right on the light rail, the bulk of the restaurant is comprised of a long shared table and two bar seating areas.  

The staff is friendly and helpful.  Rock music is a constant, but the volume is kept at a reasonable level.  The decor in the restrooms is great; be sure to peek in both.

It's busy most nights and large groups can be tricky (Futo Buta won't seat parties until everyone has arrived).  For smaller groups the wait isn't usually too long, though.  And it's worth the wait.

Futo Buta is a solid restaurant with enough tradition in the flavors to keep it grounded and enough originality and variation to keep it interesting.  Highly recommended.

  • Local ingredients
  • Vegetarian and vegan options
  • Family friendly, especially earlier in the evening
  • No gluten free

*You can read Creative Loafing's interview with Chef Shortino here, if you're interested.