Futo Buta – Charlotte, NC
When I was first preparing to move to Charlotte, I heard all around that South End was the happening-est neighborhood in town. When I managed to find a brand-new, top-floor apartment offering a couple months of free rent just outside the bounds of South End, wanting to be close to the action but not right in it, I jumped on it. Turns out my apartment is amazing and I love it. South End, meanwhile, has not been exactly my scene. While it's definitely popular with the young and has some wonderful things going for it, South End seems to cater to the fratty/woo girl crowd with its massive factory-like bars with sticky floors, gentrified cookie cutter apartments, and mobs of bros riding around on motorized scooters. I much prefer the quieter, forested neighborhood behind my building.
Futo Buta has been a bright spot in an otherwise shiny, but shallow South End. Just up the "Rail Trail," a cool promenade with street art that follows the light rail parallel to South Blvd., Futo Buta produces some of the best ramen I've had in addition to a healthy selection of magnificent Japanese small plates. It also has one of the best sake collections I've seen at a casual restaurant. While its effortlessly cooler-than-thou, rock-and-roll, follow-our-rules-or-fuck-off vibe can be a shade off-putting, the food is worth enduring the attitude.
Jared, my friend from grad school at the University of Georgia and a fellow Charlottean, has been my friend in food since I moved here, and on Mondays, a mutual day off, we routinely meet up for lunch. On this breezy Monday, the weather was a perfect 75 degrees, so we agreed to meet up at Futo Buta and enjoy the weather and some ramen on their Rail Trail-adjacent patio.
We were fortunate enough to have the beverage director as our server this afternoon, so we knew good sake was in our future. We wound up sharing five carafes of sake, from the clean and dry to the funky and aromatic, and were feeling pretty jubilant by the end of the meal. Futo Buta sagely understands that most people don't know much about sake––even I, who knows more about food and beverage than most (not a flex, just a fact) is a relative stranger to the sake world. To compensate, Futo provides little information cards with each carafe of sake they sell, with info like the type of rice, polishing percentage, ABV, prefecture, and tasting notes.
I have now dined at Futo Buta enough to have zeroed in on my absolute favorite things on the menu, and during this meal, knowing that I wanted to share a blog post about it, I went for some of the greatest hits so that both of my loyal readers might get a glimpse into their wonderful food. For appetizers, Jared and I split, first off, their tori kara age, little morsels of fried chicken and chicken skin served with a chili mayo, fresh mint, lime, and ginger. Crazy good.
Futo Buta also offers a small selection of sushi and sashimi, which y'all know I cannot resist. Their salmon belly nigiri, hot smoked with pecan wood and topped with a yuzu mayo, tobiko, and sweet-salty maple shoyu is a must-get each time I go. The fatty belly is balanced beautifully by the condiments and light smoke flavor.
We tried their gyoza, one of the most reasonably priced things on their menu, for the first time on this visit, and were thrilled the flavorful little fried dumplings. For some extra interest, we spiked the dipping soy sauce with some of the lime juice from the kara age as well as the jalapeños that garnished the plate. Delicious.
But you're here for ramen. They offer several wonderful varieties of ramen, from the traditional to the experimental, all using hand-pulled noodles made from flour from North Carolina wheat. The tonkotsu, the most traditional pork-based ramen, is the old standby on the menu, but my favorite tends to be their fusion-y "chizu" ramen, with a chicken broth, a mouthwatering shiso pesto, mushrooms, black garlic, and tangy pecorino cheese. Since we'd had both types in the past, we took the advice of the server and went with "Fire and Ice," a smoky dashi and kimchi-based broth with smoked salmon, watermelon radishes, bok choy, carrots, mint, and leeks. Immensely impressive bowl of ramen yet again.
The only problem with Futo Buta, besides their sometimes abrasive attitude, is that it's pretty expensive, so while I would love this place to be a go-to for lunch, it rather ends up being more of a once-in-a-while haunt. Still, I am thrilled to have such a wonderful, inventive, authentic Japanese ramen spot a stone's throw from my apartment. South End can be alright after all, even if your seat on the patio involves observing passing bros on Lime scooters.
Jared and I love our Monday lunches and shared a glass of gamay at my apartment after lunch, followed by some cuts of sushi for dinner at my standby, O-Ku, also just up the road. O-Ku had freshly broken down a bluefin toward the end of the evening, and we feasted on some of the best otoro I'd ever had. A great day!
More Charlotte to come? Why not! And, in fact, coming up soon, the Maestro Eats International Edition returns. Where could I be headed now? Stick around and find out!