As a third-generation chef from New York, olive oil pumps through the veins of chef Michael Shortino. When he agreed to meet in mid-March, his new restaurant Futo Buta, or "fat pig" in Japanese, was nowhere ready for its debut in May. Still, Shortino greeted me with a large smile, thick-rimmed glasses and an Easter-colored plaid shirt any hipster would envy.
His passion for authentic flavor shines as he gushes about the importance of ingredients and creating meals from scratch. Futo Buta specializes in humble "low-country" ramen, featuring pork butt in the dishes and table-sharing popular in Japanese ramen houses. Shortino, who was most recently the executive chef at BAKU in SouthPark, wants to bring a community feel to the rustic space, encouraging guests to bond over a shared meal and a few sips of their signature kombucha teas.
Located at 222 Bland St., Futo Buta will open to the public in mid-May.
Creative Loafing: What influenced you to open a Japanese ramen and sushi restaurant?
Michael Shortino: Japanese cuisine is so much fun. You're able to work with so many different ingredients. If you work in a steak house, you're working with steak and potatoes. If you work in a Japanese concept restaurant you can literally do anything you want. It's just a level of integrity that I appreciate.
Because of the size of the kitchen I inherited, I have the ability to expand the menu to include tori karaage (Japanese fried chicken), gyoza (pork dumplings) and all the different ramen. In North Carolina, the farmers are amazing [with all] the products that we have available. I just keep expanding the menu like a typical Italian chef.
What sets Futo Buta apart in Charlotte's vastly growing restaurant scene?
If there is an authentic ramen house out there, I haven't seen it. I think there is a niche out there to be filled. This is an up and coming town. Some of the chefs that are here are going to change the face of Charlotte and I want to be part of that. It's going to be a hot culinary market.
[Futo Buta] is going to be a traditional ramen house in the sense that it will be authentically made. Everything will be made from scratch. All the stock, the dashi, down to the noodles. Everything will be made from scratch. In a traditional house you always serve gyoza.
What is your favorite ramen to eat?
Tonkotsu has always been my favorite; it's something you can eat on an everyday basis. The key to [ramen] is the noodles and the stock. Everything else you put into it is just additions. That's the lights on the Christmas tree, but the tree has to be fresh and it has to be wonderful. You don't want to put Christmas lights on a dead Christmas tree.
Otherwise I like tsukemen (literally "dipping noodles"). It takes at least two days to make a batch, so there's only going to be 15 bowls available per day because you take the stock and you reduce it down so far that it's almost like french cooking of a stock to a glace. It's so smooth, creamy and silky that you dip the noodles into that broth and you eat it. For every bowl of tsukemen, you can get six or seven bowls of konkatsu.
Correction: The print edition of this story stated Shortino was from New Jersey, not New York. We apologize for the error.