Ichicoro Ane heats up Downtown St. Pete
“Wait,” I said in disbelief. “You guys have a black cocktail?!”
Sitting at the large U-shaped bar inside the newly opened Ichicoro Ane in Downtown St. Pete, co-owner Noel Cruz smiled as his partner Kerem Koca asked the bartender to make me their most popular drink.
The Black Mage, titled after the Final Fantasy character of the same name, is an exotic combination of sweet pineapple, IPA beer, and activated charcoal amaro. The result is a dark, earthy drink that gradates in color from warm golden amber to pitch black.
“This was our first ability to work with a full palette of spirits,” Cruz said. “We want to raise the bar, from service, to quality of food, to creativity.”
After looking around the new concept, these ambitious goals were apparent—and successfully achieved.
Cruz and Koca opened Ichicoro Ane in late December 2017 to much anticipation from the community. And after over a year of renovations to the first floor of the Station House building that reconfigured everything from the location of the kitchen to the front door, it was obvious that these two were just as excited to show off their creation.
In fact, the space is so different from what it was and from all the other restaurants in the area that in order for me to describe it accurately, I first need you to scrap everything you know about St. Petersburg, Florida and instead imagine that you are somewhere in the Lower East Side. Follow me:
It’s late, you’re looking for a place to grab a bite and a few drinks with some buddies, and you stumble upon a pair of basement-level doors with a dimly lit concrete sign. The smell of cooked noodles and a charcoal grille is in the air, and you can hear the steady baseline of underground hiphop thumbing below street level.
Clearly, you found the right place.
Designed by Dutch East Design and Warren Red Branding, the interiors of Ichicoro Ane blend the traditional designs of Japanese restaurants with the attitude of a New York nightclub.
Slatted wood walls crisscross the ground floor like a maze to form dining rooms, a private events space, and even a DJ booth. Wallpaper in the Bā Lounge feature murals of naked geisha harpooning a giant squid while large rounded settees in sunflower yellow velvet take center stage in the middle of the room.
In fashion terms, it would be like if Public School NYC or Yohji Yamamoto collaborated with Gucci for its latest collection of ready-to-wear bomber jackets.
It’s totally cool, it’s high-quality, and it’s unfazed by trends.
For most in the Bay Area, Ichicoro is already a familiar name. Its first Tampa location in Seminole Heights is practically a mecca for locals, who Cruz said waited over 5 hours for a bowl of ramen at its opening two years ago.
For the new St. Pete location, Cruz, who attended the Culinary Institute of America, and his co-chef Branden Lenz wanted something that spoke more to the chefs, or as he put it, “the creators.”
“There’s a whole roster of new plates and a lot more creativity outside of just noodles,” said Cruz. “The menu is almost completely different except for the fried chicken and the pork buns.”
In other words, ramen takes a backseat at Ichicoro Ane so that small bites and snacks can take over.
Interesting plates and flavor combinations dominate the menu, like the sweet Tsukune—two skewered chicken meatballs with a subtle lemon flavor—and the crispy Okonomiyaki—a thin vegetable pancake topped with citrus marinated pork belly. The ultra-umami Wani Nashi Amiyak—a grilled half avocado with fried garlic and spicy chili oil—is my personal favorite because it packs a salty bite that will make you want to order another cocktail. P.S. Use a fork for this one.
But all of these flavor combinations aren’t just for show. They truly know what they’re doing here.
This weekend, Ichicoro Ane will expand its menu even further to include weekend brunch and lunch, or as it calls it “Brunchuru.” Events manager Emily Smith-Prance says the menu will include an assortment of new and familiar items as well as a special cocktail menu.
“We are most excited right now about our french toast bubble waffle with guava and cream cheese,” said Smith-Prance.
Other offerings include a brothless ramen bowl with bacon, egg and cheese and a variation on biscuits and gravy made with ginger and garlic.
As I sipped on my next drink called the Golden Saucer—a fusion of gin, rosewater and lemon—I was reminded of that scene in my head from the Lower East Side. Cruz told me that his inspiration came from traveling to the finest cities in the world and trying their best restaurants.
Clearly, he was onto something.