Ejay Rin’s menu is inspired by the Far East, and born of a simple concept.
It’s what we like to eat with an Asian twist to it,” explains Bill Foster, who with partner Andy Howell opened the Manchester noodle shop in July.
Recognizing the universal appeal of such common dishes as noodles in broth and glistening buns stuffed with savory meats, Foster and Howell have adapted culinary elements from Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia to accommodate local tastes and ingredients. A time-honored and global culinary tradition that has spawned some of the world’s most celebrated cuisines-often by necessity-such blending of influences is not so much trendy as it is simply resourceful.
“It’s pan-Asian prepared by Southern dudes,” explains Howell, who has been cooking in Richmond restaurants since 1983 and whose former ventures include Zeus Gallery Cafe and Cafe Rustica. Ejay Rin’s recently expanded menu offers such amalgamations as grits with Japanese ramen broth, kale with Korean fried chicken, and ramen noodles topped with crispy pork belly and pulled pork.
“We try to use what’s in season here, as opposed to what’s in season in Peru,” adds Foster, a Culinary Institute of America graduate whose Richmond restaurant resume boasts The Frog and the Redneck, Acacia, Zed Cafe, and Cafe Rustica, where he first worked with Howell. Offering an insight gained from his extensive experience, he remarks, “The longer I cook, the more I realize that everything’s the same.”
While basic elements of comfort cooking may transcend cultural boundaries, so also does the allure of freshly prepared food. Ejay Rin delivers this quality by making almost all components-ramen noodles, dough for the steamed buns, desserts-in house.
Fittingly, the restaurant’s name is itself an Asian and Southern fusion; which, according to Foster, combines his South Carolinian grandmother’s name (“Ejay”) with an informal Japanese honorific. Recalling his grandmother’s own prowess and resourcefulness in the kitchen, Foster remarks, “She held the family together and she held it together with food.”
Ejay Rin’s weeknight special-available Monday through Thursday-is notable for its name, “I’m not cooking tonight you cheap bastard!” (Who among us can resist a dinner special pitched with salty language and common sentiment?) Designed to serve parties of two or multiples of two, the special offers a three-course meal featuring some of the restaurant’s most remarkable offerings for a base price of $28. The deal includes a dessert composed of heavenly almond cookies perched atop a bowl of rice cream, a sweet and creamy house creation composed of rice and minimal dairy.
Located at the base of the Corrugated Box Building on W. 7th Street, Ejay Rin’s bright and airy presence both complements and contrasts with the industrial atmosphere of its Southside locale.
Foster believes common misconceptions about the site’s accessibility from the other side of the river may discourage some potential customers; but is confident that Manchester, which he describes as, “the last up and coming neighborhood in Richmond,” is rapidly becoming more familiar to folks throughout the city.
Pointing out Ejay Rin’s close proximity to the downtown area, he adds, “You cross anything from the Lee Bridge to the 14th Street Bridge, we’re right there.”