One of the many odd things that my wife would be able to tell you after all the years that we have been married is that I really enjoy ramen, and not a passing interest either—I have an increasingly unhealthy love affair with noodles in broth. I could go into an entire back story of why hear, but that would be boring and probably not that much of a surprise to anyone. The fact is that I have been dragging my loving wife all over the capital region for years trying to find a decent Japanese restaurant and failing to find anything that isn’t a passable Chinese place.
About a year ago we even stumbled on a small, some might even call it a craft, diner, that was supposed to specialize in serving ramen. So, as a special treat to me during a vacation Veronica decided to take me there so we could fully experience an authentic dish. If I was to call that place authentic anything I would call it either hipster trash or some kind of compound word with lots of hyphens that one really shouldn’t use in mixed company. Then probably start screaming about them being rude.
The moment that Veronica and I sat down the woman that was minding the counter seemed to want us to leave, which is odd as the place was empty and normally in smaller shops you try to encourage business instead of actively trying to scare them away with evil glances. When we finally did get the ramen the broth tasted like fish and was clearly over spiced, which was odd because neither one of us order a disgusting seafood combo platter. The cuts of meat were super fatty, and not the kind of marbling that makes something a little tasty – the kind of fatty that most butchers won’t sell you because even the meat without fat probably is just condensed cholesterol. These were also the better parts of the experience, because I don’t even want to touch on the fermented veggies or the “seasoned egg.”
As one that normally does not give up on something until all forms of logic have long since told me to stop, recently I went on a random online search to see if any other eateries have opened up in recent days that – a quest that I was happily rewarded to find that, at least they claimed, an authentic “from Japan” ramen store had opened up about 12 minutes from where I work. So not to be daunted by any challenge that would keep me from my savory flavors I decided on a day to take a long lunch, and went for a little adventure.
Considering that the previous experiences hadn’t even been close to the mark, and it would have been kind to call one of them an interpretation of a dish by someone who has only had it passingly described to them, my expectations where not very high when I walked through the door. Being greeted instantly with “Irasshaimase!” (Japanese is a weird language and that is the formal was to welcome someone as they enter a store) gave me a little bit of a better feeling, seeing takoyaki on the menu gave me even more hope.
I, of course, ordered takoyaki and ramen. For those reading this that aren’t super familiar with what takoyaki is, it is a fried food containing wheat flower, diced tempura and octopus, and ginger and green onion. It is normally flavored with a mixture of sweet sauces and is amazing. Most places you find online will tell you that it is a street food, but from what little I understand it is more of a festival food, so think more along the lines of fried bread dough or cotton candy.
There was also a very neat visual effect that was done when the dish was first brought out, but as most visual things it is more interesting to see then to read about. The dish had paper thin slices of dried fish on top of it. These didn’t really taste like anything, and if had to be described sort of had the sensation of eating paper—that wasn’t the neat part. While the food was hot the heat made the slices sort of wiggle around, like that of an octopus, giving the illusion of what is about to be eaten.
All that said, the dish doesn’t really taste like octopus or sea food. It tastes more like gooey yummy fried fair food.
But, of course, the real reason that I am writing this is for the ramen. And, while it might be fun to make several articles out it the entire thing, I will simply start off by saying it was amazing enough that I did go back – taking two additional trips to introduce Veronica and Stark. Probably planning a third the next time that my mom comes down so I can use it as an excuse to eat something that is probably way to salty for my current diet. Doesn’t matter, it is a taste paradise.
As with the octopus balls, the ramen comes out insanely hot – so much so that it is advisable to not eat it for a minute or two directly after it has been set down on the table. The bowls that they are served in are traditional ramen bowels, which, while you can see them in the picture, are not like most you would see in America – getting wide at the bottom and kind of just staying that way. These are tall and continue to get slowly wider along the way up. They are neat to look at, but also make it so when you first look at the food you can think to yourself, “hey, this isn’t that much.” That thought is pretty much entirely wrong.
So what is the main difference between this noodle soup and the instant stuff, besides the price? The easy answer is everything, but real first place to start is the noodles. They aren’t freeze dried, but rather made at the store – I believe most that day. The broth is way richer and has a deeper flavor to it than you would get with a packet, because you aren’t just highlighting “chicken,” or “beef,” and can have other things sticking around in there as well. Then, if that isn’t enough there is all of the fresh ingredients that they throw in, like vegetables and lean cuts of meat. So the difference between eating a McRib and going to the pig roast.
As I have clearly made my opinion of the entire event clear, I guess I should probably give the impressions of the people I dragged there before finishing up.
Stark went in ready to eat pretty much everything that menu offered – which had me pretty worried as he has a nasty shellfish allergy and I kind of didn’t want to spend my Saturday dealing with his death/hospitalization. He was pumped for the takoyaki until about three minutes before we parked, when he saw a picture and asked if there was mayo on it—which, yes. They put a form of sweet mayo on the dish, but enhances it. To which he replied that he hates anything with vinegar (which raises more questions about eating Asian food, but I let that one slide). If my wife enjoyed the ramen, he was simply over the moon about it, which was nice because I had kind of been selling this place pretty hard for the last couple of weeks to him and didn’t want to look like a jerk.
Veronica, on the other hand, stated that it we can only go there once a month, at most, because it was terribly salty and probably bad for my health. She violently disliked the takoyaki, but not because of the taste. She informed me, later, that she has this “texture issue,” which is news to me – although I am sure that if I think about it she probably has told me this countless times and I just chalked it up to her trying to be difficult and prove how much fun she could ruin at will. Although when she asked when the last time I ever saw her eat a mozzarella stick was it hit me; I have been married for 10 years and she has robbed me of mozzarella sticks the entire time. I have not once had one since being married. Never. She also loved the ramen, but that doesn’t seem important.