To break down is to be minimalist. It’s like working with sugar cane. From the joint—the knobbly intervals along the shoot—you snap and shuck the skin until you hit white meat. Then, gloriously, you suck the sugar dry. The sun slides overhead, and the street vendor tells you to drink from the cane. The sweet juice is raw Kool-Aid, pooled in the stalk after a summer monsoon.
You’ve reached it: the end, the barest the cane can go. Spit, says the vendor. Or, otherwise, chew on the bark.
This is the process of stripping what’s whole into parts.
And this is the philosophy of Ann Arbor’s Tomukun Noodle Bar.
Light bangs through Tomukun’s open door, and groups of college kids in Ray-Bans mill by on their way to American Apparel. Behind the bar—underneath LeBron James, panned on the flat screen—the cooks labor over woks searing pink lumps of pork belly. Bandana’d, they rhythmically hack at cold, gray slabs of duck breast and asparagus; one cut, two cuts, three cuts and they’re breathing steady.
Tomukun work is hard work, but it’s done with purpose.
Modeled after places like David Chang’s New York noodle bar, Momofuku, Tomukun is minimalistic to the core. High-backed, plywood booths hug a 20-foot-long communal table; they’ve got no cushy tush pad or decorative inlay, no. The whole place is spare, cherry dark because of the absence of dangling dining room lamps.
Why? Why would owner Thomas Yon choose to design the place like this? Because, simply, it’s all about the food.
Ramen, soba, udon, pho, pork buns stuffed with pork belly—which, Chang has been quoted as saying, will become the next tuna tartare—all food fit for the street cart. All of it, food that’s unassuming, unobtrusive and completely minimal.
Minus, of course, the big broadcast of James’ biceps. That’s as obtrusive as you can get. Tomukun keeps it simple, but tiptoes dangerously close to being Ann Arbor’s newest Buffalo Wild Wings. Ditch the flat screen because, now, for the first time, we’re getting the chance to try something different.
We’re getting the chance to spit out the bark.