Denis Zimmer-mann said he’s not re-inventing the wheel with his ramen restaurant Ulta House in downtown Langley.
“Most any mother in Japan can make this food,” he said.
Zimmermann grew up in Japan and moved to the United States when he was 12 years old. His father was a commercial pilot with Japan Airlines and his mother was a flight attendant with the airline.
He worked as an art director in advertising and graphic design for many years in California until he met his wife, Cheryl “Cherub” at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.
Cheryl was the owner of Living Green Natural Food and Apothecary in Langley for over a decade. The couple married and Zimmermann moved to Langley 13 years ago, and started doing design on his own.
Many of Zimmermann’s family members still live in Japan. He went back to visit his brother recently, which is when he had the idea to leave advertising and start a new business through which he could share things that he loved from his childhood growing up in Japan.
“I just missed the feeling of what it’s like to be in Japan – the food, the culture, the little streets, the little shops,” he said. “I think it was time for me to reconnect with that,” he said.
So he opened Ultra House in May 2018, a ramen restaurant featuring the food and drinks he grew up eating as a kid. He operates his self-described “portal to Japan” in the space that used to house Tipsy Gourmet.
“He did all the work inside the shop, except the electrical and the duct work,” his wife said. She said that his training as an art director really shows through the colors and design of the restaurant, from the walls to the menus.
Ramen is the star of the menu and Zimmermann offers four bowls – including one vegetarian item that can be made vegan. Other menu items include gyoza, bento boxes, rice bowls, and onigiri (Japanese rice balls wrapped in seaweed), and imported beers and sakes.
He also has a wide selection of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages in bright, shiny packages that one could find in most grocery stores and vending machines in Japan. When he was in Japan he saw a lot of vending machines offering both hot and cold drinks, so he stocks up on canned coffees and teas. His wife also runs an apothecary in the back of the restaurant.
Each ramen bowl is made with a pork broth base and comes with a variety mix-ins like pork slices, spinach, bean sprouts, nori and shiitake mushrooms. For those who have not tried ramen before, the Shoyu bowl has “milder flavors” and is topped with chicken oil.
He said the people’s choice is the spicy miso bowl which is topped with a spicy chili oil. A bowl costs $14.
On a recent Friday, the restaurant opened at noon and was already half full by 12:30 p.m.
Gordy Fredrickson of Freeland said the food is really authentic. “I keep coming back to the [Tonkotsu bowl]” he said.
Shai Steiner of Clinton said she’s happy the ramen house moved in because “they’re aren’t a lot of ethnic restaurants in town.” She said she like the spicy miso bowl.
“This is art food,” she said of the ramen’s colorful presentation.
Suzi Dixon of Langley came to the restaurant to meet Steiner for lunch. “I hope it will bring more stores into the area,” Dixon said.
Zimmermann said he has had people ask him if he will expand to open a location in Oak Harbor. He said he’s going to focus on doing it right in Langley first, but that “anything’s possible at this point.”