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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Dream Ramen Journey...

In less than 24 hours, I will embark on a month-long once-in-a-lifetime journey around the nation of Japan doing the only thing I know how to do really well--EAT RAMEN! I initially planned on quitting my job and doing this over a three-month period, but then the economy tanked...and, needless to say, that probably wouldn't have been a good idea. So instead, I was lucky enough to take one whole month off and still have a job to come home to. The ramen gods are indeed smiling upon me!

I'm not exactly sure how this will turn out and I don't really have a set plan or agenda, but the goal is to just get on a plane or a train and go city to city in search of the best ramen shops around. Another goal would be to update my blog daily (as long as I can find the internet) and compile as many pictures that my four memory cards can hold. I'm not getting paid for this, nor is there a desire to. This is just a longstanding dream of mine that I would like to share with all of you. So please join me and let the ramen rampage begin!!

See you in Tokyo! Bassanova here I come!!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

JapanUp! Vol. 22 - Ramen Special

In case you haven't found a free copy of this month's JapanUp! magazine laying around your favorite Japanese market, here are some pics. I've been a fan of JapanUp! since the magazine debuted 22 issues ago. Not because it's the greatest free pub out there, but because it's the only English alternative. And it can be pretty interesting at times.

The funny thing is, I've sent several emails over the past year asking them to do a ramen special. None of them were returned, but I guess they finally did it. I don't know...it would have been nice to have a section on us local ramen blogs. Nevertheless, it was a good issue and it helped the overall exposure of ramen so I can't complain.

The various regions of ramen were also featured. Although, it didn't seem complete!

Ramen-ya's around LA. Hmm...I'm noticing a trend. I only see ramen-ya's that regularly pay for ads. If you do a special on ramen in LA, shouldn't you include every ramen-ya??

Man, this is making me want to create my own LA Ramen Guide. What do ya think? Shall I do it? You wanna help? Oh wait, but I already have this blog and I'm not a big fan of wasting paper.

Ahh, Sun Noodle. They seem to sponsor everything. What? Free gift with every kids set at Shin-Sen-Gumi? Darn, the fine print says 12 or under.

An interview with Aaron Woolfolk--a man who respects the mighty slurp!

Toppings anyone? This is actually pretty cool. It tells you which toppings go with which soup base.

Where is Sharman Oaks? Hahaha!!

That's all. I almost forgot to mention the staff of Shin-Sen-Gumi Gardena on the cover. Nice job!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Santouka's Limited Edition Awase Aji Ramen

As luck would have it, I had planned on driving down to OC today so you can probably imagine my excitement when I read edjusted's ramen alert this morning. If you can't imagine it, well...nevermind. Anyway, I'm really busy and I should be working right now so I'll keep this short. (And shhhh, don't tell my boss.) Stay tuned to edjusted's blog for a more professional review.

The Awase Aji Ramen is a mixture of Santouka's Miso, Shio, and Shoyu with a little bit of fish powder and pirikara. Its "chibi" size comes with a bowl of rice so you can add it to the soup after you've run out of noodles. We'll get to that later.

Mmm...not bad! The mixture of the three produces a complex flavor with a subtle sweetness and a mild kick. The chashu was juicy, the egg was rubbery, and the specially marinated menma had a good smoked flavor.

"Yeah...we just chillin' on this chashu raft in a pool of ménage à trois ramen."

It is recommended that you dump the rice in the soup "chazuke-style" after you've slurped up everything. Oooh...I may have to start doing this with all the ramen I eat. Not bad at all...

Unfortunately, the Awase Aji Ramen is limited to this weekend only and there are just 20 bowls per day. You should probably get there early if you want to try it (11am open) because at 10:50am today the line was almost reaching Italian Tomato. Ganbatte!

I'm starting to like these limited edition ramen. Santouka, keep them coming!!

Only 4 more days...

Ramenramenramen Alert! Costa Mesa Santouka doing it again!

Breaking ramen news straight from OC's favorite ramen blogger, edjusted of ramenramenramen.net. Read about it here. Peace...I'm out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Northern Cali Conclusion: Santa rules!

Santa Ramen
1944 S. El Camino Real
San Mateo, CA
(650) 344-5918

I started out this trip determined only to try new places that I've never been to, but with all the mediocrity in the city I just HAD to visit Santa! It's been almost a year since my last visit and my dreams of "pure kotteri heaven" have never been matched. I needed a quick reminder to ensure that it still exists. And indeed it does...

(Shout goes out to Lynae of the Clippers Spirit!)

Shoyu Ramen w/Stewed Premium Pork: To be honest, I felt a little nauseous after eating at Kahoo today. I wasn't sure if it was MSG overload or just plain heartburn, but this ramen made everything feel better. No joke! It might have been mental, but there's nothing fake about this Shoyu Ramen. Rich, bold, distinct, deep. There's not enough adjectives in my vocabulary to describe it.

I also heard great things about their Kakuni, but never had a chance to try it until now. Amazing! Every intoxicating bite was tender and addictive. Seriously, the sake was permeating perfectly!

So that's it! It's time to head back to LA. I hope you enjoyed my posts as much as I enjoyed the trip. If I had to do a northern cali ramen ranking based on places that I've been, it would probably go something like this:
  1. Santa Ramen
  2. Ramen Halu
  3. Shoki Ramen House
  4. Kahoo Ramen
  5. Maru Ichi
  6. Ramen House Ryowa
  7. Katana-Ya
  8. Suzu
  9. Osaka Ramen
  10. Iroha
IMO: Everything outside of this top 5 is probably not worth trying unless you live close by and don't have any other choice. Oyasumi!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ramen Club - Burlingame, CA

723 California Dr.
Burlingame, CA 94010
(650) 347-3690

I tried joining the Ramen Club today, but they were closed. What's up with that?! Closed on Sundays AND Mondays? Oh well, there's always next time.

You want to join the Go Ramen! Club? Membership includes a free t-shirt! Okay, so there's not really a Go Ramen Club YET and t-shirts are on back-order, but email me if you want one! (Btw, not sure who the dork in the pic below is...)

Kahoo Ramen - San Jose, CA

4330 Moorpark Ave.
San Jose, CA 95129
(408) 255-8244
Around the corner from Mitsuwa.

Can you smell the ramen incense blowing in the air? I can and it's emanating from Kahoo 香風! After a share of disappointments in the city, I decided to head south (again) to try another well-recommended ramen-ya from San Jose. One supposedly so good, our friend rameniac calls it "the best shoyu ramen in the Bay Area, if not the world outside of Japan." Wow, could this bowl be the one?

Shoyu Ramen: A deep, murky goodness that is both light and resoundingly flavored, one could definitely argue it's position for best in the bay. I, on the other hand, have a few objections. Indeed this ramen stood out, but I'm not sure it could beat out the likes of Santa, Halu, or even Shoki. Wouldn't it be fun if we could see them all duke it out? I'd pay to see that! (I'd probably be the only one too...)

The star topping was the pork belly. Next time I'm ordering extra! The rest (egg, menma, spinach, goma, negi, nori) were somewhat typical. But I loved how the spinach soaked up the wonderful soup.

The noodles didn't seem to match. Much too thin for my tastes, they really didn't feel like ramen noodles. I'm not sure what it was or if it was just me, but something a little thicker would have been nice.

Shio Ramen: The Shio Ramen wasn't as good as the Shoyu, but if you like a strong, heavy chicken flavored soup, then this would be the one to get. The toppings and noodles are similar to above with much the same impressions.

Once again, the pork belly was sensational!

Gyoza: Now why would they just bring out an empty plate? I thought I ordered gyoza! Sumimasen! Oh wait...there is gyoza on the plate. Daaang, that's some crazy camouflage. Are those octocamo gyoza skins? Hahaha. I was so intrigued with their appearance that I almost forgot to eat them. They weren't the greatest but they were 100x better than that Neon Palace!

Yup, it's official. You definitely need to travel outside the city for ramen to mean anything up here!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Iroha - San Francisco, CA

1728 Buchanan Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 922-0321

My brother wasn't in the mood for ramen tonight (sometimes I wonder if he's really my bro...j/k) so we ended up compromising on a restaurant that has both ramen AND other stuff. At first glance of the name, I began to have flashbacks of Menya Iroha and their Toyama Black from last year's Tokyo trip. Q: Could this Iroha be related? A: NO!

Niku Shoyu Ramen: Since this really wasn't a true ramen-ya, I went in expecting the ramen to be bad. No surprise here. So instead of ordering the regular shoyu, I thought I'd order one with a little more protein.

Hmm...I'm trying to think of something positive to say. Oh, I know. The bowl was perfectly designed to prevent the soup from spilling over the table. Okay, so it was bad. The niku (meat) was frighteningly tough and lacking any flavor. The soup was something similar to an instant brand I've had. Out of respect, I won't say the name of that instant brand.

In one of the pics above, you'll notice that they claim to have "homemade noodles." Homemade noodles my ***!!! From which factory?

Yakitori: Amazingly, I couldn't finish off the ramen so I needed something else to fill the void. "So bro, where are we going next?"

Sigh...I guess ramen in the city really does blow.

Maru Ichi - Mountain View, CA

368 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041
(650) 564-9931
Google Maps

If you know anything about Bay Area Ramen, then you've probably heard of Melanie Wong, the reigning Bay Area Ramen Queen. Unfortunately, her busy schedule prevented us from meeting up this weekend, but she was still kind enough to email me with a recommendation--Maru Ichi's Kuro (Black) Ramen. So without further ado, welcome to Maru Ichi Japanese Noodle House.

Combo A - Kuro Ramen, Rice, Potstickers: You can order any of their ramen with Combo A, but I obviously went with the celebrated Kuro. According to a blurb in their menu, this "browned garlic" technique was born in Kyushu's Kumamoto Region and first made famous around 1960. Although it's not quite as powerful as Gogyo's Kogashi Miso, this dirty-looking soup really packed a punch. The black oil spill of garlic rests upon a sweet, creamy tonkotsu base so everything that goes in also comes out kuro. There's definitely no escape.

Three hours later, I'm still feeling its lethargic effects. I can only imagine what my stomach looks like after looking at the pic below. I can barely remember what all the toppings were because everything just tasted kuro. Not that I'm complaining!

The chashu was slightly disappointing. The flavor was okay but the texture was tough and far from being tender. Egg, seaweed, moyashi, negi, and kikurage made up the rest of the toppings.

The Hakata-style thin noodles were mostly a highlight, but I expected something fresher for being homemade. Yup, that's right, I said homemade. They have a special room just for making noodles. Unfortunately, there was nobody making any today and it looked more like a storage room for flour than anything else.

If I had known the potstickers were fried, I probably would've skipped the combo.

Maru Ichi also makes their own fresh kimchi, which went perfectly with my rice. It's located in a jar on the table next to the roasted garlic chips so there's no limit to how much you can take.

Tonkotsu Ramen: This Tonkotsu Ramen is basically a naked version of the Kuro. It's not as rich and full-bodied as one might think, but it still satisfies a minor pork bone craving.

Maru Ichi in its cozy, little Mountain View community does a decent job of representing Kumamoto in the States and does an outstanding job with the Kuro. It makes me wonder why more ramen-ya's don't use this method, especially in LA!

Katana-Ya - San Francisco, CA

430 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 771-1280
Near Union Square

Every now and then, there comes a ramen-ya that inspires me to write with excitement and enthusiasm oozing out from the neurons of my fingertips. Unfortunately, this was not one of them. I'm not sure if it was the cheesy neon lights or the stunning Brides of March, but all I got to say is: "Only in San Francisco!"

Regular Shoyu Ramen (rich): I've heard some people say that this ramen "is the best in the city." And then I've heard them say "ramen in the city is nothing to rave about." Somehow, I understand exactly how they feel. This Shoyu Ramen wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. I guess you can call it "regular" at best (and they do! haha). Available in "rich" or "light", this rich version was just a shoyu ramen with extra fat. The toppings (chashu, menma, negi, seaweed) were highly overrated. The noodles were standard as well.

Regular Shoyu Ramen (light): The light version of this Regular Ramen was also nothing to rave about. Exactly the same as above, minus the extra fat, the soup was surprisingly better flavored, but still not worth the hype.

Deep Fried Chicken Ramen (Miso): Their miso ramen was more like miso-soup ramen and notably light, which made the Chicken Karaage a welcome addition. I didn't try the chicken, but I heard it held its crisp fairly well.

Gyoza: An utter disappointment. I was expecting a little more for 6 bucks. An overbearing flavor of cabbage drowned out most other ingredients. I'd recommend skipping these next time.

Day one is done, but day two is just about to begin. It's time to leave the city and travel south.