Momosan Santana Row: I queued, I ate, I paid

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This mural takes up the back wall

I will admit, I am not a trendy person. I don’t usually go out to do the latest trendy thing. It takes a lot of effort on my part and requires queuing, which I suck at. If anything, I wind up being ahead of the trend (such as blogging about ramen back in 2002, flashpacking before the term was invented, etc) or trying to desperately ignore it. Pumpkin spice anyone? IGNORE

So Chef Morimoto (of Iron Chef fame) opened up a branch of his ramen/casual dining restaurant Momosan in San Jose a couple of weeks back. Momosan also has locations in NYC and Waikiki. The other night, I decided to drive down to try the place out with a friend who lives down there.

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The decor inside is modern, minimalist and woody. Kinda trendy and a full house

The rule about new trendy spots that open is to try the place on a weeknight. Actually, the rule is to go to any place that’s popular on a weeknight. The queues shouldn’t be as bad as the weekends. This is true according to the manager there. He also told me that the queue for the night I was there began at 16:00, an hour before they opened and was 40+ by opening time.

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This was about 30 minutes. Note: Line died down around 19:30 on Thursday night.

When you enter, the staff greets you with a hearty ”irasshaimase!!” as you’re seated. Even though the servers are new at the ramen game, service was friendly, fun and prompt.

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Next: Food!!

Look at the menu here. The going price of a bowl was US$19.00, a little higher than the norm over here of US$14-15 for a bowl. The jaw dropping bowls were US$29.00, one called the All-Star which was basically meat with some noodles and broth tossed in and the other one, the Gyukotsu which reads like short rib ramen. The latter is limited to 30 bowls a night and the manager told me that it sells out within the first hour. My friend got the All-Star and I got the traditional Tonkotsu.

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Popcorn Shrimp. Not like the typical with the fried batter

But first, appetizers! Two easy ones, the duck fat fries with truffle ketchup and the popcorn shrimp (tempura battered with kojuchang aioli). Both hot and fresh and delish!

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Fries came out hot hot and the ketchup was great

Now the main course. Right off the bat, I love the presentation. And you’ll notice the bowls here fall under the ”least amount of toppings” category so there’s something really good here.

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Tonkotsu Ramen with that ajitama tamago

The noodles were thicker than my preferred Hakata style but not as thick as Hokkaido ramen noodles. A nice middle of the road Tokyo noodle I’d call it. The noodles were fine. The broth had the tonkotsu umami and savoryness but not as heavy or as fatty as traditional tonkotsu. That means that you can indulge and you don’t feel like you have to be rolled out of the restaurant. I liked the broth a lot. I finished it.

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There’s some chasiu for you

The chasiu was different. Instead of the typical slices of chasiu, this looks like they put it in a slicer. They were thin cuts of chasiu, rolled up. When you picked it up with hashi, it looked like slices of bacon. It was good! And also wasn’t too heavy. Was this a diet bowl of ramen I had? Perhaps.

My friend devoured the All-Star before I could get better pix of that. He did let me steal a piece of the pork belly that came with his bowl. The fat was melt in your mouth delish and the meat was almost melt in your mouth too. Yum. Next visit may try that if the gyukotsu is sold out again.

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The All-Star, with pork belly, chasiu and chicken

Momosan Santana Row
378 Santana Row, Suite 1130
San Jose, CA 95128

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.

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I think there’s some noodles down there, under the corn, negi, kale, karaage…

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

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.

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.

Not a lot of toppings…I mean you can see the noodles and everything
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 (pork and duck) 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. The only nit I can pick is the temperature of the broth. It should be steaming hot, not kinda hot. This is a common problem with ramen in California, and to be fair, with most food and drink since the McDonald’s coffee thing.

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…and your car won’t get its windows broken.

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.

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
Here’s the dough…
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

Bourdain’s Advice taken in Shinjuku

On the first episode of No Reservations titled “why the French don’t suck”, Anthony Bourdain devotes part of the show to the simple joy of sticking your head into the door of a strange restaurant and finding bliss.

Of course, as it is with all TV shows, this segment was scripted. However, it still made the point of leaving your culinary comfort zone to try and find new places that can eventually become old places (and a new part of your comfort zone) and then you can continue the search for new places. It never ends, unless they outlaw good tasting reasonably priced food (like they seem like they’re trying to do back home in SF, NYC and other places).

My first visit to Tokyo and my indoctrination into the ramen world took place a few years back at a small ramen shop off of Koshu-Kaido dori, across from a Citibank down the hill from the south exit of JR Shinjuku-eki. The place is still there and I’ve made my usual visit.

But the other night, I was hungry and decided to expand my horizons. I noticed a small shop across the way from one of the many small computer shops that populate this part of Shinjuku.

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There’s an a/v shop behind me!

It has the usual flags up, but none of them said “ramen” in katakana (which is the kana I can SORT OF read). Looking inside, there were lots of people and it LOOKED like a ramen place, but I wasn’t sure. So I continued to walk around, passing the mysterious place every 5 to 10 minutes, sneaking peeks through the wooden slats that cover the windows.

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When you see this from the other side, it’s intimidating

After 30 minutes of window shopping and indecision (and stomach grumbling), I walked in and took a seat and tried to figure out the elegant looking menu. Thankfully they had an english menu that was not as elegant looking and I was able to place an order for a bowl of shio ramen.

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Well, it looks nice…too bad I can only read 6 characters!

After the beer and the water, comes the shio!

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This is the starter in ramen shops!
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It was a delicious broth, light and flavourful with just a touch of oil with the slices of toriniku and negi sitting majestically on the top with a sour plum.

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And guess what? The thin ramen noodles I lurrve! I hit a gold mine!

So now this is one of my “must go” places now. And they play real jazz inside!

Ramen Santouka Shinjuku Minamiguchi
1st Floor, Nakaoki Building
1-18-5, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Tourist Traps, Waikiki and ramen

My brief visit to Waikiki Beach (5 hours total) over 5 days in O’ahu demonstrates my aversion to known tourist traps. But first, some clarification…

There IS a difference between a tourist trap and a tourist attraction.

A tourist trap can be an attraction that has allowed the area surrounding it to get all whored out with businesses whose sole purpose is to relieve dumb tourists from their money, regardless of taste or cost, because they are there.
Examples: Waikiki Beach, Great Wall of China (Mutanyu Section), Fisherman’s Wharf (San Francisco), Times Square (NYC).

A tourist attraction is an place or item of interest where the “whoring out” that a tourist trap has is either non existent or unnecessary for the place or item of interest to exist as an attraction.
Examples: USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri, Diamond Head, North Shore.
I don’t think you can accuse the above Hawaiian attractions of being “whored out” or “tourist traps”.

Sometimes there are reasons to brave tourist traps. In some cases, it’s the only way to visit an ancient wonder (Great Wall) and in other cases, it’s the businesses that are part of the tourist trap area. In San Francisco, the only reason to go down there (if you live here) is that the Wharf has The City’s only (ONLY) In & Out Burger and Hooters as well as the old school seafood restaurants. In Waikiki Beach, there’s a firing range (yep) and several good ramen shops. And like the idiot that I am, I went to Waikiki Beach to eat ramen…

The first shop I hit was on my second night in O’ahu. Ezogiku Ramen is a chain of ramen shops that are scattered all over O’ahu along with the original shops in Tokyo and Sapporo.
Yes, I got the addresses to the shops in Japan and they’re on my “to eat” list now.

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As you walk in, it ain’t glam, it ain’t frou frou, it’s good ramen and beer!

After reading about the history of Ezogiku and its Japanese roots, I asked the waitress (who was bringing me a beer, yeay!) what the specialty of the house was.

Waitress: “Miso Ramen”
Me: “One please!”

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I’m very easy to please!

The miso had that “zing” that we all love in our miso ramen. Or maybe that was a touch too much MSG. But in either case, it was very well done. The noodles were snappy and the scallions were good too. The slice of cha siu was cold, like it was taken out of an icebox and put onto the bowl and the broth could have been a bit warmer.

Many of the customers inside the shop were Japanese and if I closed my eyes while slurping down the noodles in my bowl, I could imagine I was in Tokyo in some unknown ramen shop. Bliss. Until a squad of PRC tourists came in, excessively loud (in both dress AND volume) and hungry. Then when they all got their food, the slurping began. A great sound! Guess they love ramen too.

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Enter here for hearty, unpretentious ramen

Ramen Ezogiku Waikiki
2146 Kalakaua Avenue
Waikiki HI 96815

Warning: There ARE differences between shops that share the same name. There’s an Ezogiku Ramen on University Avenue down the hill from UH. Other than sharing the name, the ramen here was mediocre. I won’t go on further because it was a big disappointment as this was to be my last meal before I caught the red-eye back to the mainland. A word of advice: If you go to a ramen shop and you see the bowls coming out of the kitchen with heaps of bean sprouts on top, think carefully before you order. Too much bean sprouts on bowls of ramen is like maki (sushi rolls) that’s all rice and not enough fish. It’s FILLER!
Run away!!

Dotonbori and Den Den town

Needed a long sleeve shirt to fight off the cold. Went to Den Den town to go shop at Muji. Great store, BTW.

Wanted to putter and see Gilco Man. Off to Dotenbori.

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The neon of Dontenbori

Got hungry. Ate at Ramen Stand. They had these platforms with tatami and little tables. You sat on the tatami that are on the platform. Slurp.

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Not me, a fellow backpacker from the Hostel.  Ramen was good and quick.  

Got thirsty. Went to Kirin Beer Restaurant. Had a sampler.
Like I need instructions on how to drink beer…

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There are instructions.  Quaff.  Sit.  Burp.  Repeat.  

Got tired.  Went back to Kyoto on the limited train. Sleepy time.