Menya Shono San Rafael. Better ramen than in San Francisco

Many of the ramen shops in San Francisco fall under the “throw lots of stuff into our ramen so it will hide the missing taste” category. That, along with over salted broth, is why you often feel bloated after finishing your overpriced bowl and wind up a kilo heavier the next morning. It’s hard to avoid since many of the ramen shops around San Francisco are often turnkey restaurants or owned by people who open a restaurant to be on the next trendy thing.

Except ramen shouldn’t be trendy, should it? I mean, it’s considered fast food in Japan and Asia.

In my extensive experience in eating ramen, I’ve found that the best bowls are the ones with the least amount of toppings to distract you from enjoying the quality broth and noodles that you should be devouring. Which takes us across the Golden Gate Bridge to downtown San Rafael to Menya Shono.

This location is the first in the US for Menya Shono (there’s a second location in Union City now) and they have done the very difficult: replicated a good bowl of ramen and sides that wouldn’t be out of place in Tokyo, Hakata or Sapporo. The noodles are made in house and the greens and other ingredients are farm to table.

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Noodle machine that makes Noodles

Menya Shono has no menus; you order and pay by smartphone via a QR code and no tipping, meaning the gratuity is baked into the price. The prices seem about the same as San Francisco after tip is factored in. Here’s their online menu. And here are bowls of Shio Ramen from my visits.

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Not a lot of toppings…I mean you can see the noodles and everything
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There’s pork and duck chasiu and kale there. The only way I will eat the latter is in this ramen.

The broth was light and complex, both chasius fell apart when picked up with chopsticks and the toppings of fried garlic and the egg complimented the broth, not overwhelming it. The noodles were snappy and satisfying. Do I like this place? YES. I’ll even eat the $9 toll to get home without complaining. Hey, it’s like paying for parking in The City…

Menya Shono
908 4th Street
San Rafael, CA 94941

Gratitutious Ramen entry

This was a fast trip, to be ended with an early morning in Tokyo. It made more sense to get my ramen fix while I was in town, as opposed to being in transit.

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Shinagawa. Going from the Keikyu Line to JR.

This is how transit looks like in Tokyo. The trains are color coded and queueing is orderly. However, it’s a huge crush even at 0700 in the morning. Thankfully people here have a good sense of hygiene. But you don’t have ramen for breakfast here. Yet.

I was in Hong Kong for several days so I decided to get my ramen fix there. Many of the major ramen chains are there including Ichiran.

Ichiran is (in)famous for it’s attitude towards it’s ramen. Instead of tables where you can occupy space for hours, yakking with your friends, their ramen is served individually in cubicles so nothing gets in the way of the ramen. Then when you finish, you leave. Your bowl is customizable. The softness of the noodles, the intensity of the broth and as many (or as little) toppings as you’d like. As it should be.

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Hard noodles, rich broth with scallions and red oil. YESSSSSS

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The aftermath after one serving of kaedama.

Since the Singapore leg of this trip was going to be busy, I’m glad I got my fix here.

Ippudo Story San Francisco (Lost in Translation)

No Scarlett Johansson here (bummer).  Just two ramen fans that were excited to welcome San Francisco into the big league of ramen towns.  San Francisco has an Ippudo.  Finally! No more queueing at Mensho for hours in the TL with bums.  We could now queue in a wind tunnel off of Market Street! Despite being forewarned about the broth being dumbed down (at Ippudo Berkeley, which opened nine months earlier),  we braved downtown, found a parking space and crossed Market Street for a bowl.  A very expensive bowl.

Yes.  That’s $82 (after tip) for dinner for two.  A beer, a bun, a bowl and some ice cream.  Keep in mind that the same bowl in Tokyo is half the price (along with the beer) in what gaijin call “the most expensive city” in the world.  I would be willing to excuse this as “the price of doing business” in San Francisco, except the broth here tasted like they phoned it in.  It’s technically tonkotsu, but set at 5 instead of 11.  The best way to describe my disappointment is to say that the broth here has been Lost in Translation.  It isn’t as “fierce” as it should be.  Also, no sides of garlic and ginger as the other Ippudos in Asia have.

They did get some things right.  The cha siu was tender and the broth could have been a smidge hotter (in order to keep the noodles hot).  And Ippudo is probably the only place in San Francisco that can actually do the soft boiled ramen egg properly.  Delish!

Because of this, it’s technically an “Ippudo”.  The ramen was bowled properly, the noodles had some snap.  The flavors are there, just not enough of it.  I really wanted to love this place; to be able to say that it’s a match for Ippudo’s Tokyo and Singapore locations (I know these best) and everyone should brave the line and the price for a bowl of Akamaru Modern because THIS is what ramen is supposed to be like.  Instead, I’d recommend this as a starter Ippudo.  Go here and appreciate it for what it is.  A decent, but VERY overpriced bowl (because of the local conditions that restaurants in San Francisco have to operate in, not because of Panda Express greed).  Then book a flight to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai and have a bowl over there.  That’s how it’s supposed to taste.  And you’ll save some money too.

Ippudo SF
18 Yerba Buena Lane
San Francisco, CA 94103

L is for Lobster ramen

Ramen Keisuke is a small local ramen chain in Singapore. Each of the shops has a different speciality.  The newest location at Clarke Quay, Lobster King, makes lobster based ramen broth.  Yes, it’s awesome.

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It’s so goshdarn awesome that when I first visited here back in February, there was a 1 hour queue.  On a Sunday night.  Still that was better than the 3 hour queue on Saturday.  So this time around, we figured, “Thursday night, around 8”.  Figure everyone else would not come out cos it was a workday.  Ha.  Wound up waiting 40 minutes anyway.  Ramen was the awesome again.  Had the shio this time.  And when we left at 2200, no line!  So if you want a bowl without the queue, come for siu yeh on a weekday.

Ramen Keisuke Lobster King
3C River Valley Road, #01-07
The Cannery (Clarke Quay), Singapore

K is for kudos

I’m currently staying at the Singapore St. Regis. It’s on the very end of Tanglin Road, right before Orchard Towers and the Hilton. Ion Orchard is a 10 minute stroll (with humidity) where Orchard MRT is in the basement.

This is my first time here and I can say the place is plush. Breakfast is good too. Since I don’t know this area too well, I decided to take a walk down to Ion, just to see what’s around. I found a Hiroshima based ramen shop called Ramen Bari Uma in the basement of a mall. Their claim to fame is a very hearty broth and thick smoked chasiu. The egg was the standard soft boiled and the bowl was just the right size. If you’re American, you may think it’s on the small side. Thin noodles and the perfect temperature from the kitchen to table.


Another thing is that this place felt very Japanese. Besides the greetings, the cleanliness and the feeling inside the place felt like Japan. Except they speak English. Kudos!

Ramen Bari Uma
19 Tanglin Road, Tanglin Shopping Centre,
Singapore

 

Good food is where you find it; Mutsumi-ya in Tokyo Station

I spent my last hour in Japan (being in the lounge doesn’t count, because since you clear passport control, you’re technically “not” in Japan) puttering in 東京駅.
It’s been a while since I’ve needed to go through Tokyo Station on the way to NRT. These past few visits I’ve been going through Shinjuku Station since it’s closer to where I stay during my visits. There’s a lot happening in Tokyo Station and the surrounding Marounouchi neighborhood. For one, Tokyo Station has a left baggage service in the basement close to the NE’X tracks so you can check your bag and putter around for the day before making the long slog to NRT. Although both stations have lockers, they won’t swallow a 26″ roller, that’s why it’s nice to have the left baggage service at Tokyo Station because Shinjuku doesn’t have it. Another bright spot of Marunouchi are the many nice restaurants in the area that includes a branch of A16 and a Cafe that’s part of Joel Robuchon’s restaurant chains.
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Almost feels like being in Paris. Of course, we ARE in Marunouchi…
The best food I found though was inside Tokyo Station itself. There’s a branch of Mutsumi-ya in a special Tokyo Ramen Street section of the basement. I stumbled upon this gem as I was wandering around semi-lost for a new place to eat. Mutsumi-ya is a Hokkaido based chain as evidenced by their flagship bowl of corn-butter ramen.
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It was very oishii! Corn and butter in the broth…
Unlike most Hokkaido style ramen I’ve had, this bowl has the satisfying food buzz that you get with good Hakata style ramen. The broth was rich and hearty and very satisfying. And unusually for Hokkaido ramen, the noodles were firm and has the feel of quality. It’s easy to mass produce thick noodles (which Hokkaido ramen uses) and many shops cheat with store bought noodles. I don’t think Mutsumi-ya does that. It’s that good.
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The restaurant itself is not designed for lingering; rather it’s all about eating and going.
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Here’s some of their other menu offerings and some credentials

Ramen Usefulness!

Contrary to popular belief, this blog is NOT a ramen blog! Or rather, this blog is not JUST a ramen blog…
That being said, here’s a useful site that explains the different styles of ramen that’s out there. Eventually, this will go onto the blogroll once I find a good template I can tweak without messing it up.
*hat tip to Tastespotting*

Ippudo Story NY

After my first visit to Ippudo Shibuya back in March, I vowed to eat this delicious ramen again! Even if I had to travel all the way to New York! It’s only 5+ hours to JFK from SFO…
So last weekend, I did that. Flew to New York. To eat and drink. Actually, I was in New York for a different event and wound up with some time on Sunday morning to visit Ippudo NY. It’s just north of Astor Place station on the 6 line. Astor Place should be renamed to “ramen place” because this is the station that leads to St. Mark’s place and the East Village. Or as I call it, “ramen central” for the United States. All the good ramen shops are here in this small area of Manhattan (with the sole exception of Ichiran, which has opened up a branch in Greenpoint), both home grown (Momofuku) and from Japan (Ichiran).
There’s no doubt about where you are when you see the front door. It has that rustic feel like the Tokyo location. Until you actually walk through the front door.
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As you walk through these doors, you will be transported to Japan…
Then all of a sudden, it’s not rustic anymore. It’s very modern in a neo-japonesque kinda way.
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How modern! How big! How modern!
As with all things American, it’s big! Compared to the Shibuya location, it’s at least four times as big. Comfortable chairs and big tables. However, the menu is roughly the same. Which is a good thing. This time I went for the Akamaru Shin-Aji with the signature red glob of pork fat in the middle of the bowl.
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the noodles are hiding under the broth…
You’re supposed to stir it up. This is how the broth changes after you stir it up. And I was transported back to Japan and better days. Springy noodles. Rich pork fat reinforced broth. Wonderfully tender (albeit a bit small) slices of roast pork. Garlic and negi in excellent proportions. And a second helping of noodles. Yes, I was very happy consuming lunch. After I finished my bowl, I was experiencing pork overload. Didn’t mesh too well with the slight hangover I was nursing.
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orangish porky broth goodness!
Ippudo NY has a cash bar in the front of the restaurant that has various beers (Kirin, Sapporo) on tap as well as Yebisu in bottles and featured sakes.
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Now that’s a lotta bowls…
The hella cool thing is that they have a 2 for $6 happy hour beer deal during the week. That includes Yebisu! I had one to balance out my system, which was dealing with a wine induced sneaky hangover and tonkotsu broth overload when I needed to go to the bathroom, which was downstairs. Besides the bathrooms being nice, I discovered something else on my trip to the bathroom…
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Two long glass slits next to doors that say “private”. What are they doing inside these mysterious rooms? Why they’re making broth! And noodles! From scratch!
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Mmmm…broth!
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Here’s the dough…
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that turns into noodles in your soup!
So, yes you can get authentic Hakata ramen in the United States. Well, you can get authentic Hakata ramen in New York. This is a “must visit” place when you’re here on the island.
Ippudo NY
65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003
1-212-388-0088
http://www.ippudo.com/ny

Ippudo Story Tokyo

During my recent Tokyo visit (late March), one of my friends sent me an email clipping from Urbandaddy that was about a Japan based ramen chain that was opening up a branch in the East Village. I skimmed over the article (“hmm, that’s interesting. New York gets ALL the good food”) and then left the hostel for the day. Later that night, I would be one of 100 or so A’s fans inside Tokyo Dome watching the A’s lose to the Red Sox, much to the delight of the rest of the crowd inside.
I met up with my friend Takeshi later that night after the game. He told me over the phone that he wanted to take me to one of his favorite ramen shops that’s nearby his work. So I jumped on the Yamanote and got off at Ebisu. It was a 10 minute walk to the Shibuya branch of Ippudo.
Ippudo is a Fukuoka based ramen chain that specializes in Hakata style ramen. If you’ve been patient and are a long time reader of my ramblings, you don’t need an introduction to the creamy, decadent richness of Hakata Ramen. Ippudo is considered by many as being one of the top purveyors of Hakata Ramen in Japan.
So we walked inside and took a seat. Ordered from the small menu. The ramen came out. Takeshi ordered the standard Akamaru Shin-Aji, with a big glob of red pork fat in the middle to be stirred into the broth for that extra measure of pork flavor goodness.
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See that red glob? You stir it into the broth…
I, being the purist, ordered the Shiromaru Moto-Aji, which is a pure white broth (no extra pork fat) with pork belly. Delish! The garlic and the negi add a nice kick to the broth which should be classified as a a food group. The noodles were springy and tasted fresh and snappy. They were proper Hakata style, meaning thin egg noodles. Yum!
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Look at this bowl. Now imagine it empty 20 minutes later. Burp.
Even at 2200 on a weeknight, Ippudo was 80% full, with a rustic old-school kind of feeling. They were definitely going for the nostalgic look of “back in the day”. It was a great nightcap as this Tokyo trip was winding down.
As we were leaving the restaurant, I picked this up.
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Ippudo was opening a location in the East Village! Then my brain began to wake up. When I got home, I pulled up that email that my friend sent me. And yes, it was about the New York location of Ippudo opening up. What were the chances of that? I get an email about Ippudo NY opening up in the morning and I wind up at Ippudo Shibuya at night with a flyer about Ippudo NY opening up.
Talk about coinkidinks…

Ippudo
1-3-13 Hiroo
Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo
03-5420-2225
http://www.ippudo.com

“Hello old friend” Santa Ramen in new digs

It’s a good thing (at least here in the States) that a restaurant has to move to bigger quarters because they’re just “that” busy. Santa moved over the Thanksgiving break last year.

Yes, it’s bigger! But where’s the soul?
The old Santa Ramen was on B Street where parking was a serious pain. The new Santa Ramen is now in a mini mall on El Camino just south of the 92. Easier to get to but requires a commitment because it’s 30 miles away from San Francisco. On the plus side, there’s a Nijiya Market directly across the lot from Santa so you can go grocery shopping. Remember the 29th is “Meat Day”!

In a mini-mall! Next to the Shoe Pavillion…
The big fear when a restaurant moves to new digs is that the food will not be up to par as the old place was. Although these new digs lacks the character of the old place, I’m happy to say that the basics of Santa (tonkotsu ramen) is still its old decadent rich self.

The old standby when there’s no stewed pork. Still good!
The menu has been enlarged with a greater selection of appetizers than before. My bud and I had karaage and fried squid. But the big draw is the ramen with the milky, rich, indulgent tonkotsu broth! I mean look at the broth and the oil floating on top!

OK, so it’s “fat” floating on top. That’s what makes it taste good!
Santa has brought much of the old shop with them. The broth is still good. The food is still good. The noodles are still the thick kind and you have to special order 玉子 to go with your ramen. You don’t have to sign the waiting list anymore on non-peak days; it’s first come first serve now. But one constant still remains, to remind you that you ARE at Santa Ramen…

AAAAAAUUGGGGHHHHH! NOTFAIRNOTFAIRNOTFAIR!
You still need to get here early for stewed pork. I missed it this visit by 10 bloody minutes!!! *pout pout pout*
But I shall return!!!
Santa Ramen
1944 El Camino Real
San Mateo CA 94403
650-344-5918