Ko Atteberry, a chef classically trained in French cuisine, has been a mainstay on the Corvallis dining scene for years, but it wasn't until about two weeks ago that he opened his first restaurant, Ronin Café and Ramen.
“I’m Japanese, and I’ve always wanted to do more Japanese food,” said Atteberry, a 1986 graduate of Corvallis High School.
There are sure to be some food-related surprises, however.
“A ronin is a rogue samurai, which gives me license to do whatever I want,” Atteberry said.
That includes using plenty of local and seasonal ingredients from the cornucopia of the Willamette Valley. “Japanese food also is about being local and seasonal,” Atteberry said.
The Japanese characters that make up the word ronin mean wandering human, and that’s appropriate for Atteberry.
“I’d like to think it means someone who is looking to find his way or an adventure,” Atteberry said.
He thinks he’s always going to be searching as a chef. In his spare time, he likes to travel, take trips on his dual sport motorcycle and do adventure writing.
Unlike many Americans, Atteberry never thought of ramen as instant noodles, because he grew up going to Japan every summer with his mother.
“I remember thinking when the instant ramen craze hit big, ‘This isn’t ramen,’” Atteberry said.
Ramen restaurants haven’t fared well in Corvallis recently, however.
“There’s definitely a ramen wave happening across the country. I’m not sure why it never really happened down here,” Atteberry said.
Besides ramen, Ronin Café and Ramen offers up cold Chinese-style noodles, burgers (including a seared ahi burger), and an array of appetizers that are Japanese pub fare.
The most popular ramen so far is the loaded Ronin Ramen, which includes pork belly and more.
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Atteberry’s personal favorite is the chashu ramen (with chicken broth), which features pork slices. He described chashu ramen as a sort of litmus test for restaurants. “That’s my gauge as to whether it’s good or not when I go out,” he added.
Ronin still needs to get its liquor license, but when it does, there will be a focus on sake, shochu — essentially a distilled sake, Japanese whiskeys and the local bounty of microbrews and wines.
Atteberry also wants to add more dishes to his menu, including a seafood-based ramen, desserts and more.
Atteberry lives on his family’s farm on Kiger Island, and he eventually hopes to use eggs from his own chickens in Ronin. The restaurant currently uses about 100 eggs a day for its ramen, and that is expected to increase.
The Ronin space was formerly Cloud & Kelly’s Public House and other restaurants and bars owned by Cloud Davidson, and Atteberry was in charge of the kitchen. Davidson, who has been scaling down, offered the space to Atteberry, who jumped at the chance to open his own business.
Some of the former staff members at Cloud & Kelly’s have stayed on.
The décor is rather sparse. “I just wanted a clean slate, to start fresh. I wanted it to reflect my aesthetic, simple clean lines,” Atteberry said.
Though this is Atteberry’s first restaurant, he has plenty of support if he needs it. Davidson and Murphy’s Restaurant & Lounge owner Jeb Dunlap have served as mentors for the business side of things.
But Atteberry also thinks he has a good idea of what makes a restaurant successful, both as a chef and with the finances.
“I’ve seen how things can go south. I think I’ve learned over the years what works and what doesn’t,” Atteberry said.
Ronin Café and Ramen, 126 SW First St., is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
For more information, call 541-368-3932 or go to https://ronincafeandramen.com or the business’ Facebook page.