ramen and pickles

science, technology, and medicine served up with some tasty noodles

Category Archives: Ramen

Ippudo Ramen, Westside, NYC

I finally got to try the Westside branch of Ippudo in NYC.   Ippudo, a branch of a chain from Japan, has had a location down in the East Village for years, and it was one of my most favorite ramen places.  It has been a bit of a “scene,” with an active bar area with lots of fashionable young people on dates or in groups.  Within the past few years, they openened another branch over on 51st street.

I was in a big hurry this visit, and I think that impacted my enjoyment of the meal a bit.  Luckily I was seated within 10 minutes (often Ippudo can have a long wait).

The crowd was attractive fashionable young people hanging out at the bar area having drinks, much like the I remember from the other location.  I was seated at the bar area next to a couple on a first/blind date; he was a young guy from Long Island with a fancy watch who went to college upstate and is now starting out in finance, and she was a premed at one of the NYC colleges. He actually knew a lot about ramen and Japanese food and spent a lot of time teaching her about it.   It was close enough seating that I basically couldn’t help but hear their whole date conversation, and I think that is probably reflective of the ambience of the place overall.

As a starter, I got a fusion maki full of vegetables (notice the orchid on the plate).  It’s nice to be able to get something light, as many ramen places just have side dishes like fried chicken and fried rice.

I got the torishio ramen, with a side of pickled mustard greens.  Overall the soup was excellent.  The broth was a delicious, light shio style.  The noodles were a little bit too Hakata style for my taste (I like a little more curly/springy and yellow), but good.  The add-ins were delicious.  The egg was very good.

Overall, like the one in the Village, this Ippudo has excellent food.  It’s one of the most fashionable and up-market ramen joints I’ve ever been in, and you may have a long wait if you go during a busy time.

I don’t know if Ippudo is still one of my favorite places in the world for ramen, but it’s still quite good, and worth a visit if you go to NYC.

As a side note, apparently the chain in Japan itself isn’t really something super special; it is just the NYC locations that have become so hip and fashionable.  I guess it’s a bit like McDonald’s in places like Russia and Brazil; in the US obviously nothing special or particularly a destination, but when the first McDonald’s opened in these places, it was definitely a destination for the hip and well off youth.

 

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Ajisen Ramen, Westfield Mall, SF

Down in the food court in the lower level of the Westfield mall in San Francisco, facing the south side of Market, there is Ajisen Ramen.

It’s an underground food court, but the ramen place has it’s own seating area (not the communal food court seating), so I guess everyone in your party has to eat ramen (or katsu don or whatever else strikes your fancy on their menu).

The staff was incredibly friendly.  The menus were colorful with pictures of everything you can order.  I ordered the Ajisen ramen.  It was a white broth with cabbage, black mushroom, a marinated egg, and chashu.

Overall the broth wast decently rich and tasty.  The noodles were good.  The chashu was okay.  For some reason I really liked the consistency and mouthfeel of the cabbage and the mushroom.  The egg was really disappointing.  You can tell from the picture it has a smooshed sort of appearance and that tells you something about it’s hard mealy consistency.

Overall, Ajisen was an okay place for a mall food court chain.  It was good to get warm bowl of soup on a cold San Francisco evening, but I wouldn’t head to it as a destination.

 

 




 

Noraneko Ramen, Portland, OR

Norneko Ramen is a somewhat hard to find, but tasty place in Portland.  It’s by the people who started Biwa, and has some of the really delicious chicken karaage on the menu.  The fried chicken is a definite recommend here.  It has a lot of the Portland-hipster feel with nice wood, but something about the building makes you feel a bit like community college cafeteria.  The people that worked there were super nice and friendly (lots of people who came in asked tons of questions), and that is true of some of the customers.  However, some of the other customers we encountered on a fairly busy weekday at lunch were really obnoxious entitled acting hipster jerks, who were loud and rude about things like not wanting to wait, issues with getting the seats they wanted, etc.  It was very different from a Japanese ramen-ya experience in that way.

The shio ramen you can see was very good, with delicious melt in your mouth chashu, great soft boiled egg and other add-ins.  They also had a umeboshi soda (basically umeboshi with club soda and I assume some extra sugar), very delicious and highly recommended.

Overall, a definite recommend, but it is a seemingly odd part of town, and I don’t know what you’d be in the neighborhood to do other than going here, but it’s good enough to make it your destination reason for being there.

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Ramen Bar, Philadelphia

Ramen Bar in Philadelphia is a tasty destination when you’re in town.

I got a traditional shoyu ramen with chashu.  It was solid, very traditional.  It’s been a while since I’ve gotten a slice of naruto fishcake, so that was a welcome addition.   It was tasty, and it was nice to find a really solid bowl of ramen in that part of the East Coast.

 

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Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

This was a bit of a surprise, but the Cosmopolitan Hotel/Casino has pork ramen on their room service menu.  The hotel is supposed to get a David Chang’s Momofuku branch soon, so maybe this is part of that planning.  It would be awesome to get Momofuku as room service.

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The ramen was actually surprisingly good.  There wasn’t enough broth, as you can see from the picture (I haven’t had any yet), although maybe they underfill the bowl, as they put cling wrap on it and have to transport it up to the room.  However, the broth was good.  The egg was deliciously soft-boiled.  There were good onions.  The chashu was some of the most bacon like pork in ramen I’ve ever had.  It was a bit like cross grain thick cut bacon; however it was very smoky and tasty.  The noodles were the more thin and wheaty hakata style that is not my favorite (I like thin noodles, that are more crunchy and yellow, but that is just a taste thing).

Overall, the fact that you can get it delivered (still hot) and enjoy it from a view means I definitely have to give this ramen a strong recommendation.

 

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An introduction to ramen video

An introduction to ramen video.  In case you don’t know anything about ramen.  You can watch this.



Goma-Tei Ramen, Honolulu

At first I was a little skeptical about Goma-Tei, given that the pictures showed what looked to be the kind of ramen that tries to compensate for real flavor by adding a lot of hot pepper and only uses cooked eggs.   However, I was pleasantly surprised.  The shoyu broth that I got was quite good.  Usually when you get pork, you either get cubes or thinner slices, here there were round pieces of chashu, but cut like thick cubes.  The pork was melt-in mouth soft, and very good.  The picture below is midway through eating to give an impression of how robust the pieces were.  Add-ins were otherwise mostly unremarkable, at least with what I got.  There were options that came with more veggies on the menu.

However, one thing that really stands out here was the gyoza.  They were just incredibly fresh and homemade tasting, with visible pieces of green and white onion.  Given the “char siu” spelling for the pork and the taste of the gyoza (which were a bit more like Chinese pan fried dumplings); the Chinese influence is manifest.  However, it’s a tasty place to get some noodle soup, and some excellent pan fried pork dumplings.

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Yotteko-Ya, Honolulu

On the second floor of a small plaza packed with Asian restaurants on Kapiolani Blvd, there is the the very delicious Yotteko-Ya.  We went on a Saturday evening, and there was no waiting for a table in the small restaurant.  The food was absolutely delicious.

There are a range of broths there, including a very good paitan (white/milky broth) broth shown below.

Yotteko-Ya Paitan Ramen

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The Katsuo-dashi broth was quite good as well, if of course, a lot lighter than the paitan.  The chashu and veggies were very good.  One nice element is that they give you an option of a firmer or softer noodle.  Firmer, chewier noodles are more characteristic of ramen overall, but a softer noodle is closer to local Hawaiian saimin and more Kyoto style.  However, I went with a firm noodle, just because that’s my favorite.   Overall, very good ramen.  I would have maybe like to see some more add-ins, like a nice egg on the menu, but I was very happy and I would love to eat at this place again.  Those who live nearby are very fortunate.

It is worth noting that their gyoza are quite tasty as well.

However, I think an important thing to add about the Yotteko-Ya experience is that the front of the menu makes some very strong health claims.  I am certainly biased towards hoping to believe in them, but it is claimed that the collagen rich broth will help keep skin and joints young.

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Yokohama Iekei Ramen, Union City, CA

Yokohama Iekei Ramen in Union City, CA was the very tasty destination today.  It’s located in a shopping plaza along Alvarado Blvd with an eclectic mix of other shops.  There is a Filipino pork restaurant, a Chinese Calamari restaurant, a South Asian grocery market, and a bunch of other interesting shops including physician’s office all in the same plaza.

The ramen restaurant itself was pleasant and low key.  Seating was a mix of benches along the sides, wooden chair and even padded metal folding chairs.  There were some Japanese decorations, including a picture of Yokohama train station.  It was a comfortable and friendly, yet very casual atmosphere; well ventilated.

Pictured is the shio ramen.   The ramen broth was delicious.  The “classic” shoyu broth version looked very similar overall, although slightly darker.  The shio broth had a nice light flavor, with clam and yuzu.  Overall quite good.  The shoyu broth was quite a bit smokier.  On the menu they also and a blackened garlic broth as well as several different spicy variants which seemed to be a specialty of the shop.  The add-ins were good; the chashu was delicious.  The veggies were all good.  The egg was nicely soft-boiled and then marinated.  The kikurage mushrooms had a nice flavor and texture.  We were given some options for noodle chewiness; I went with “regular”.  The noodles were definitely fresh tasting with a nice chewiness and flavor.  They were thicker than what I favor, but that is just personal preference, and overall they were quite good.

We ordered a side dish of pickled vegetables, which turned out to be a bowl of shibazuke.   Shibazuke is the bright purple mix of cucumber and eggplant flavored with shio leaves, ume vinegar and ginger.   It’s a very common pickle, but I was hoping for a bit more a mix perhaps of pickles.

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The appetizer and side dish menu was extensive.  We tried the miso butter corn, definitely a Hokkaido type dish.  It was good, if a bit sweet for my taste.  Might be a good addition to a miso broth ramen as a topping.  Lots of other delicious things on the menu would warrant and return visit.

A nice touch is that the beer (Sapporo) came in a frosted mug.  There was a nice assortment of ramen condiments on the table.   These included a nice grinder for sesame seeds and kosho white pepper & garlic powder mix.   Overall a nice touch.

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Overall, a nice place, worth a visit for some tasty ramen.

 


 

San Francisco Ramen Festival

Back in July, there was a big ramen street festival in San Francisco.  It was in association with a Japantown J-Pop festival.   Lots of people told me about it in advance.  I was a bit skeptical, but I decided to go check it out.

 

Basically, the best way to review the experience is to use this video.  The frustration expressed pretty much sums up the whole festival:

It was insanely crowded, the lines were ridiculously long, and the ramen produced in such large volumes and a rapid fashion, served in little disposable plastic bowls that it didn’t even look that appealing.    It was even hard for people to eat, it was so crowded it was hard to have your elbows out to use the chopsticks.  One of the things I love about ramen is visiting a nice shop and having the experience of an “artisanal” fast food.  The ramen festival had all the charm of eating in an airport food court.

Overall, an unpleasant experience and a waste of an afternoon.  I don’t think I will plan on going to any events like this in the future.