Welcome to my ramen dream... Currently being interpreted in Ramen Burger Land... Looking for a good slurp? Email me ! - Keizo

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Koraku - Torrance, CA

2531 Pacific Coast Highway
Torrance, CA 90505
(310) 517-0064
Rolling Hills Plaza

Strange occurrences have been following me around lately and today's lunch was no exception. As I was getting ready to pay for my meal, a random lady stood up and announced that everyone in the restaurant was being placed under citizen's arrest. Uuuuh...okay. (I'll explain some more in a bit.)

A couple ramen-ya's that were overlooked in my recent Ramen Madness in Torrance post just happen to be located right next to each other off of PCH in the Rolling Hills Plaza. One being Koraku, which I visited today, also has locations in Downtown and Sherman Oaks (and possibly a relative near Vegas). The other, as you can see in the picture above, was closed on this day before Thanksgiving.

Mabo Ramen: After a night of rain and a crisp, cool morning, the mood was perfect for ramen. So of course I set out to the mecca to enjoy a nice, traditional Japanese-style Mabo. I often frequent and enjoy a bowl of Mabo at the Sherman Oaks location because it's near one of my clients so I figured the Torrance Koraku would be just as good, if not better. And guess what? It was better! The dense mabo sauce layered atop a shoyu-based ramen immediately fulfulled my craving and handcuffed my chilly soul. Mmmm...ground pork and tofu, what would I do without you?!

The average factory-based noodle coated with Mabo sauce inherently becomes above-average with every slurp. Whoever decided to combine Mabo Tofu with Ramen is a genius and truly one of my idols...hahaha.

Anyway, so back to that crazy person. Her exact words went something like this: "Everybody listen up! You have the right to remain silent! I work for the U.S. Government and I have been observing all of you and I am hereby putting you all under citizen's arrest!" She then went on to ramble for about 2 minutes, saying how none of us had any empathy and that we should all be ashamed of ourselves. And then she left.

I honestly didn't know what she was talking about. And when she first stood up Pulp-Fiction-style, I didn't know whether to be scared or just bust out laughing. My initial thoughts were "s*** were all getting robbed" and I even thought about tackling her as she walked by. There were several families with small children also in the restaurant and you could see the relief on their faces when she walked out the door. It was very, very strange. My only explanation for her rant was possibly because she is some kind of animal rights activist and couldn't find anything on the menu that didn't contain chicken or pork. Nonetheless, I'm glad noone was hurt and that it was just a form of self-expression rather than an act of random violence.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hanaichimonme - Los Angeles, CA (revisited)

333 S. Alameda St. #303
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 626-3514
Little Tokyo Shopping Center - 3F

Last year around this time, I was only 42 posts in to my ramen blogging adventure. And now, thanks mostly to a Foo-Foo October, I give you post #200.

You might be asking yourself why I chose to visit Hanaichimonme (again) for my 200th post. Well it's very simple. Hanaichimonme has been around forever (at least as long as I can remember) and although they might not serve the best ramen in LA, depending on who you ask, they've indeed left a special mark on my childhood. And with the recent sale of the Little Tokyo Shopping Center, I feel that it's more important than ever that WE try to keep the new plaza owners from eliminating those special memories...RIGHT?!!

Hanaichi Ramen: The best ramen in the Little Tokyo Plaza! Okay, so there's not much competition if I put it like that, but it's still a decent bowl in a nostalgic setting that could easily grow on you after a few trips. It's a simple old school shoyu noodle that makes you feel like a kid again--at least that's what it does for me. So before you begin to hate on something that (in your opinion) doesn't measure up to that other place on 1st street, let's just take a step back and remember the simple times in life.

Hakata Ramen
: It's not the rich, creamy tonkotsu that you might be used to, but it's a lot lighter and seemingly healthier than the best. The toppings (moyashi, shoga, menma, wakame, negi, sesame seeds) are very average, but it wouldn't be the same without them. The most popular dish on their menu, Spicy Chanpon, also uses this soup as its base.

Manufactured or not, the noodles at Hanaichimonme are worth remembering. I like them a lot and their thin, chewy spaghetti-like texture do nothing but improve anything they touch.

It's been about a week between posts (an interesting week at most) and I'd like to just give a quick thanks to everyone who inquired about my situation with the fires from last weekend. They did come fairly close to my home, but luckily mother nature and the courageous firefighters kept them from spreading. For those that weren't as fortunate, my thoughts are with you and I hope you are all able to overcome this great tragedy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Foo-Foo Birth-Tei!

I didn't go to work today so I could enjoy a nice relaxing birthday doing nothing. Sounds like fun right? Well it started out that way, but when I went out to grab some lunch...BAM!...car accident. Out of nowhere a car just t-boned me. I'm okay, just a little whiplash, but my car may need a couple weeks to recover. Then after spending the rest of the afternoon dropping off my car at the body shop, picking up a rental car, and on the phone with insurance, I couldn't wait to have a comforting bowl of ramen. So naturally, I went to Foo-Foo Tei.

My birthday dinner: Kimchee Miso Ramen, Curry Rice, Chilean Seabass, and Fried Oysters...

Then Murakami-san came over and said:
"Hey Keizo, what are you doing here on your birthday? You should be out eating sushi! Why don't you go to sushi bar? Birthdays are meant for sushi!" (*poof* he disappears)
So what did you think he returned with?...Yep, sushi! Can you believe it? This guy can do anything! He really must be Doraemon!! Surprisingly, the 3 items pictured below (uni, ebi, and chu toro) were extremely fresh--fresher than most sushi restaurants. I felt a lot of jealous eyes around me asking their neighbors if sushi was on the menu. Unfortunately it's not, but maybe you'll get lucky too someday.

There's nothing like a nice meal to cap off a crappy day, but with a stiff neck and pulsing headache, I'm ready to go to bed. Good night! Thankfully, I made it through another birthday.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wonton Forest - City of Industry, CA

18230 E. Gale Ave.
City of Industry, CA 91748
(626) 435-1430
Inside Plaza Puente Hills

I first heard of this restaurant after an old friend from college mentioned how another classmate had opened a noodle shop near Rowland Heights. Then, during the first week of my Foo-Foo Challenge, Murakami-san mentioned that he finally found a restaurant which serves an excellent top-notch Chinese noodle soup. So for the next month, while I was religiously driving back and forth from Foo-Foo Tei, a huge sign near the 60 freeway kept flashing "WONTON FOREST", calling me in to give them a try. And as soon as the challenge ended, Murakami-san took me there for a post-celebration on him (ありがとう).

Although Wonton Forest doesn't exactly serve a noodle in the same category as Japanese ramen, there definitely is tons of Japanese influence involved. From the J-Pop playing in the background to the chef's studies and time spent in Japan, Wonton Forest is more than worthy to be featured here on Go Ramen! (Btw, before I even mention how the food was, if the owner of Foo-Foo Tei thinks Wonton Forest is "top-notch", enough said.)

Wonton Forest Noodle Soup: This signature noodle soup, a great change of pace than what I'm normally used to, was remarkably refreshing. The lightness combined with near perfect flavor, really portrayed a classic wonton soup. I was impressed!

The fresh homemade wontons were also amazing. Half pork, half shrimp, and 100% bliss. Absolutely delicious! The other toppings include choy sum, sliced pork, flavored egg, roasted garlic, and green onions. The sliced pork was a little dry and average, but the flavored egg was unexpectedly substantial.

There are two types of egg noodles that you can choose from, the thin egg noodles above and the thick egg noodles below. It is a matter of preference, but I usually tend to prefer thick. Try them both and decide which one you prefer.

Chiu Chow Noodle Soup: I used to date a Chiu Chow girl...okay, let's not even go there. Chef Paul's Chiu Chow soup was surprisingly more refreshing than the last. It's the second most popular soup, but I'd have to declare it my first. With minced pork, shredded chicken, fresh shrimp, and little round fishballs (circular kamaboko) topped with roasted garlic, cilantro, and green onions, this soup is far more eccentric than that girl I dated.

Ohh...how could you even resist the ingredients pictured below. Add a couple wontons and you'll be that much closer to heaven...guaranteed! And yes, every soup is modifiable. This Chiu Chow soup comes with the flat chow-fun-like rice noodle but it can be easily switched out with your favorite. Flexibility is another great quality of Wonton Forest. And if you don't even feel like soup, order your favorite noodle "dry style"--a soupless mixture of oyster sesame sauce that looks and smells downright delicious. You can bet I'll be trying that next!

Homemade Chili Sauce: An intricate 3-day process that would probably make my head spin, Chef Paul swears by his homemade chili sauce and I absolutely have to agree. A simple dab into any soup can transform mediocre to magnificent. And the best part about it, you can take a jar home for only $3/bottle and create some magic of your own.

Salmon Nori Cut Roll: "Poached salmon, nori, rice noodle, cucumber, and lettuce wrapped in nori and rice paper topped with a creamy miso sauce." Need I say more. No!

Choy Sum: Chosen by Chef Paul for its sweeter taste than the usually bitter Chinese Broccoli, this Choy Sum served with a side of oyster sauce is a must order if you like an extra vegetable. I could eat this everyday...and then some.

Green Onion Pancake: Aaahh, a prototype from the "secret menu." Described as a Japanese pancake (okonomiyaki) covered in Hoisin sauce, this thinly cooked negi pancake is just waiting anxiously to get on the menu. Hopefully, YOU won't have to wait much longer.

Wonton Forest is definitely on its way to becoming great. After chatting with Chef Paul, I could honestly say he has the right mentality to run a quality restaurant. There's nothing more encouraging than a chef who works for the people and not for the money. Admirable indeed! Service is outstanding, food quality is exceptional, and overall it's extremely worth stopping by. And remember, if it's busy then it helps to be patient. Chef Paul likes to reflect his talent on every dish himself. Trust me, it'll be worth the wait!

Lunch - 11am~3pm
Dinner - 5pm~9pm
Closed on Sundays for Dinner only.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ramen Madness in Torrance

How cool would it be to spend the day visiting every ramen-ya that Torrance has to offer? Seriously, I'm talking back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back! What? Did you just roll your eyes and call me crazy? Sweet!!

I brought up the idea to fellow blogger Exile Kiss shortly after we met up for lunch today around 11:30am. If anyone were crazy enough to do this with me, I knew it would be him. After all, he did shadow my Foo-Foo Challenge with a challenge of his own--mostly doubling up at each sitting to keep pace with my daily visits (impressive indeed). So of course he said "I'm down" and off we were to create some Random Madness of our own on the very first Go Ramen! Run highlighting the city of Torrance and it's 5 main ramen-ya's.


1730 W. Sepulveda Blvd. #6
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 534-1698
Open 7 Days

Quite possibly the best Sichuan-style ramen-ya on this side of the Pacific, Shisen Ramen's self-titled signature bowl is a mildly-spicy, reddish-clear broth that's an instant classic. Top it with a cutlet of tender Paiko (Fried Pork) and it's the perfect way to start off the day. Some other contents include bok choy, napa cabbage, onion, and a little garlic. The thin noodles with a slight curl had an excellent texture and may have been the best of the entire run, but we'll get to that a little later.

Since I've enjoyed the Shisen Ramen on multiple occasions, we decided to also take a stab at the Shoyu Ramen. Unfortunately this was a mistake. Let's just say it tasted like oily soy sauce water without character and definitely without soul. I urge you to stick with the signature ramen because we undoubtedly took-one-for-the-team on this one. I won't even bother listing the toppings.

The miniaturized gyoza were also very disappointing. They tasted somewhat chalky and not as good as I remembered. Hopefully it was just a bad day. Anyway, let's get outta here!


24631 Crenshaw Blvd. #K
Torrance, CA 90505
(310) 517-9099
a.k.a. Kiraku Torrance Mama Ramen

I ranked Shin Mama Ramen fairly high last year (#4) so I was anxious to see if they still were top 5 worthy. A brief chat with the chef (forgot to get his name) revealed that this ramen-ya has 3 main soup bases: A chicken base that takes 10 hours to prepare, a "regular" shoyu base that takes 8 hours to prepare, and a tonkotsu base that takes 14+ hours to prepare...yikes!

Our first choice was the Shinasoba; an intensely flavored explosion that uses the chicken base. My first reaction was WOW! An infusion of pepper with screaming intensity propelled this mildly clear soup. It reminded me of Ichiriki or Harukiya, which in my mind is outstanding. Although it tastes more like Chuuka Soba than Shinasoba, I think Shin Mama's version could hold it's own in Japan--it's that good! My only complaint would be about the noodles. Slippery and missing that comfortable chew, I wouldn't mind if they were replaced.

The Shinasoba's chashu was also amazing. Almost as good as Murakami-san's chashu, this thickly-cut tender piece provoked a succulent "ohh man...that's good" from both Exile Kiss and I in near unison. This could be what dreams are made of...

The Kakuni Ramen with the "regular" shoyu base was also quite the standout. The Kakuni was impressive, but it still couldn't woo me like the previous chashu had. The soup wasn't as rich as I remembered and for some reason that bothered me. It had a good flavor, but I couldn't grasp why it had changed so much. The egg had a strong sake taste that reminded me of Okinawa. In the end, I still think Shin Mama is top 5 worthy, but for entirely different reasons.

Third Stop: CHABUYA

24231 Crenshaw Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90505
(310) 530-2749
Tokyo Noodle Bar

Okay, so the best part of Chabuya was when Exile Kiss ordered hot tea in Japanese and the waitress looked at him like "huh?" Apparently she didn't speak Japanese...hahaha that was hilarious!

I first came to this Torrance Chabuya back in January during its pre-Grand Opening so naturally, I wanted to see how it had changed almost a year later. The first ramen we tried was the Tori Soba--an original chicken based broth that contained chicken chashu, fried shallots, and green onions. Honestly, it tasted like chicken soup. You know, the kind from the commercial where the little kid says, "I never knew there was chicken in this soup." Yeah, it was a thicker version of that one. It was...nice. The fried shallots stood out, but it didn't really feel like ramen. The noodles weren't as chewy as I thought they should've been and were eerily similar to the ones we just ate at Shin Mama, only flatter. Could they be using the same factory?

"The Classic" with extra chashu was enjoyable, but it had an odd aftertaste. It didn't ruin the ramen, especially since I thought the chashu was outstanding, but it still left me thinking it could have been better. Perhaps the Kara Kara would have filled that void (or just masked it), but no use wondering what could have been, it's time to move on!

But before we go, let me just show you the difference in noodles for the two ramen. I always admire a ramen-ya that serves more than one type, even if it's not the best.

Fourth Stop: MEN-BEI

21605 S. Western Ave #J
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 320-7730
In the East Gate Plaza

To me, Men-Bei is a classic middle tier ramen-ya that doesn't necessarily have the best ramen, but it's a place where you always feel welcome. Today's visit was nice, but unfortunately I can't say the same about the ramen. Just to mix things up, we ordered the Wonton Ramen with the Shio base and that's really all I have good to say about it. I've enjoyed Men-Bei in the past and it hurts to tell you how horrible this ramen was, but the wonton was purely inedible and the salt-water soup tasted worse than my own sweat--my apologies for the visual. The noodles were more of a positive than negative, but we were ready to head out. Okaike onegaishimasu!

Fifth and Final Stop: RAMEN SANTOUKA

21515 Western Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 212-1101
Inside of Mitsuwa Market Place

Santouka...oh Santouka, please help me understand. The best food court ramen? Definitely! The best ramen in LA? hmm... Okay, let me get this straight. Santouka is good, I like them, especially in Japan, but I just can't grasp it's popularity in LA. Oh well, that's why we are all entitled to our own opinion.

This Chibi Shoyu Ramen was the most disappointing of the day. Beginning with an overbearing fishiness and concluding with an overly starchy noodle, there was nothing positive about today's Shoyu. It makes you wonder how a food court ramen actually cooks their soup. Do they cook it elsewhere and deliver it to the market everyday? Or does the health department allow for Santouka to slow cook it within the food court?

The Tokusen Toroniku Shio Ramen is by far the best ramen at Santouka. And although it wasn't disastrous like the shoyu, my expectations were looking for something more. Don't get me wrong, the Toroniku is darn good and it's meatiness is admirable, but I still feel like Chabuya's chashu (even if it's a different cut of pork) tastes much better.

Santouka's shio base is outstanding, but like Exile Kiss said, it can't really compare to Foo-Foo Tei's remarkable shio. After all they are two different breeds and I'd prefer FFT over this anyday.

The noodles were slightly better than the shoyu and surprisingly, the broth was not as piping hot as it normally is. There must have been something wrong because this type of inconsistency is inexcusable.

So there you have it. A taste of Torrance ramen in a nutshell. For the record, Gardena Ramen is also technically in Torrance, but we didn't bother with it since both of us had recently gone there with disappointing results.

And if it means anything, here's how I would rank the day:
  1. Shin Mama Ramen (best soup)
  2. Shisen Ramen (best noodle)
  3. Chabuya
  4. Santouka
  5. Men-Bei
Be on the lookout for Exile Kiss' review. I'm sure he'll have a more descriptive post (like he always does) of our day in Torrance. Until next time, Jaane!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Umemura - Gardena, CA (revisited)

1724 W. Redondo Beach Blvd.
Gardena, CA 90274
(310) 217-0970
Previous Review

New sign. New decor. New owner?? Thankfully not! Although I will forever miss the rusty old nostalgic sign, the newly remodeled taco-bellish building is a good sign for Umemura's future. I'd like to think I had a hand in it (see 2007 rankings), but Umemura has survived for years (long before my little blog) and it's no surprise that it still remains popular today.

As I begin to round out the year in preparation for another year-end ranking, why not start with Umemura to see if anything had changed (other than its remodel), I thought. I won't bore you on my history with this place (since we took care of that the last time), but I will say that last year's review has consistently been in my blog's top 5 most-visited-pages every month. Hopefully, you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Umani Ramen: The sole (or should I say soul) reason why Umemura was ranked so high last year. The Umani Ramen is definitely one of the best of its kind in all of LA and OC. Of course Umemura has seen better days, but this ramen has steadily improved over time and has remained delicious. But can it remain atop for another year? We'll see...

The thick gravy from the sauteed toppings gave the normally mellow shoyu base an injection of high octane flavor--a flavor that coated the "homemade" noodles for extra slurping power. There are too many toppings to name (pork, cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, etc...) so you'll just have to pick 'em out from the pics. I'm not sure how true their "homemade" claim is, but their crimped noodles tasted fresher than ever before and looked similar to homemade mass-produced chuuka soba that I've seen in Japan.

Half Chahan: Chahan at Umemura is a must order when visiting on an empty stomach. The fresh pork and bits of crab always impress. Today's half order of chahan was a little dry so what did I do...

...I dumped it into my remaining soup. Ahhh, now this is some good chahan! Don't be afraid to mix and match!

Lunch - 11:30 am ~ 3:00 pm
Dinner - 5:00 pm ~ 9:00 pm
Closed on Tuesdays

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Foo-Foo Challenge - The Recap...The End!

I put together this little slide show in case you missed the daily posts. Enjoy...

So you might be a little curious on how my body held up after eating ramen for 31 days straight. Well...let's just say I didn't gain a single pound. Initially, I thought I would be struggling after the first week, experiencing a Super Size Me like month, but this was not fast food and it honestly just felt like eating a good home cooked meal every night. A lot of it has to do with Murakami-san's fresh and organic ingredients and a non-pork based soup. I can't imagine how I would feel if I ate Daikokuya every day.

Another thing you might be wondering is what my favorite ramen was. It's hard to say because there was more than just one that I really liked and it really depends on the day. But if I had to choose a top 5, it would probably go something like this (in no particular order): Kimchee Ramen (Miso), Mabo Ramen, Ten-Shin Ramen, Tanmen, and Kakiage Ramen (Shoyu). And of course the Kokudama was incredible, but it's not exactly on the menu...yet.

The Rundown...

Day 1: Shoyu Ramen
Day 2: Shio Ramen
Day 3: Miso Ramen
Day 4: Torikara Ramen
Day 5: Mabo Ramen
Day 6: Hot & Sour Ramen
Day 7: Asari Ramen
Day 8: Shiitake Ramen
Day 9: Umani Ramen
Day 10: Oyster Ramen
Day 11: Ebi Wantan Men
Day 12: Yasai Chawanmushi Ramen (Prototype)
Day 13: Pork & Miso Ramen
Day 13.5: Kokudama Shoyu Ramen (Prototype)
Day 14: Komu-Tan Ramen
Day 15: Kakiage Ramen
Day 16: Seafood Ramen
Day 17: Nanchatte Tonkotsu Ramen
Day 18: Kamo Negi Ramen
Day 19: Negi Daku Ramen
Day 20: Shin-Shin Ramen
Day 21: Ten-Shin Ramen
Day 22: Kimchee Ramen
Day 23: Tanmen
Day 24: Chanpon
Day 25: Tan Tan Men
Day 26: Ja-Jang Men
Day 27: Hiyashi Chuuka (Summer Only)
Day 28: Motsuni/Menudo Ramen
Day 29: Beef Tomato Ramen
Day 30: Curry Nanchatte Ramen
Day 31: Kata Yakisoba
Day 32: The Reward... (Beef Curry)
Day 33: The Day After... (Yasai Ramen makeup)

Well I hope I was able to give you an idea of what to expect from Foo-Foo Tei's 31 different types of ramen. It's been fun. I'll see you at Foo-Foo Tei! Remember, Hacienda Heights NOT Monterey Park.

Foo-Foo Tei
15018 Clark Ave.
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
(626) 937-6585

M-F (lunch): 11:30am to 2:30pm (last order 2:15pm)
M-F (dinner): 5:30pm to 10:00pm (last order 9:30pm)
Sat (all day): 12:00pm-10:00pm (last order 9:30pm)
Sun (all day): 12:00pm-9:00pm (last order 9:30pm)
Cash only if under $20

Foo-Foo Challenge - Day 33: The Day After...

I woke up this morning with a mild hangover and the irritable feeling of not trying the Yasai Ramen on Day 12. If you recall, that was the day I was lucky enough to try the prototype Chawanmushi Ramen. But it still bugged me and I was determined to eat every ramen on the wall. So, of course, I headed back to Foo-Foo Tei for the 33rd consecutive day in order to ease my mind from that irritable feeling and that mild hangover.

The Yasai Ramen is exactly that--lots of vegetables in your choice of soup (shoyu, shio, or miso). I chose the shoyu today because I was utterly craving it and today's weather was perfect for it.

I feel much better. I can now officially say that I've eaten all 31 bowls of ramen on the wall plus 2 prototypes. Yay!

Foo-Foo Challenge - Day 32: The Reward...

True to Murakami-san's word, I was presented with the following trophies last night--two bottles of KuroUma Shochu and one giant can of Asahi. It was a nice little celebration for the two of us that was spent eating and drinking well after the last customer paid his bill. And on this night, Murakami-san refused to let me pay for anything so I must start off by saying thank you to him. (FYI, I got home late so this post is one day behind.)

No ramen on this night so the streak officially stands at 31. I was more interested in trying a curry dish all to myself so I decided to order the Beef Curry. The Beef Curry was more like steak curry and it was awesome! The juicy, tender strips of steak mixed with curry was exactly what I was craving. Foo-Foo Tei's curry is so good it's virtually indescribable! You'll just have to come try it out for yourself!

All the entrees on the menu come with salad and miso soup. The original orange dressing is really really good and the miso soup helped dilute my shochu intake.

It wouldn't be normal without the signature Murakami-san disappearing act. So on this night he disappeared and returned with a spinach salad covered with a mixture of egg, sausage, and a dressing that tasted like parmesan cheese. Underneath the spinach was a bed of fried onions that gave it an extra crunch. I love spinach, I love caeser dressing, I love sausage, and I loved this salad!

As we finished off the beer and shochu, we both couldn't believe how time just flew by. We talked about his business and the joys and struggles of running a ramen restaurant, along with various lessons he learned in the process over the last eight years. He showed me the stats for the day with the #1 seller being the Nanchatte Tonkotsu. Shockingly, the Nanchatte sales just about tripled the next ramen on the list. The 2nd and 3rd items were the Ika Maruyaki and the Saba (not ramen), respectively. I couldn't believe it. I knew they were popular, but not that popular.

We ended the night both feeling good and ready to move on from this challenge. I'm ready for what's next. Are you??