Tag Archives: japanese food

Kimchi Cha-Shu Ramen at Ramen Dojo.

30 Sep

“Dojo” is a Japanese term that means “place of the way”, often referred to a formal training place for a practice to forms of arts. At Ramen Dojo, this would be where the chefs practiced, and we observed, the art of the slurpy noodles.

The first lesson at Ramen Dojo was that of patience. With a shop this size and the fervent fan base, the average wait time was about an hour to an hour and half. Adult beverages a block down at a dive bar ironically named Yuppie definitely helped us through the process; but the more devout stood brave in the cold.

The restaurant was a small, cozy one. It was warmly lit, with tables and chairs enough for only 20, while an L shaped counter top allowing an additional eight, also conveniently carved out the register section. Parallel to the front door was the entrance to its kitchen, a small cave of florescent light and steaming pots of broth. Chefs working away cooking noodles and adding toppings to the giant bowls.

It was almost like a made-to-order sandwich shop or pizzeria: select your basics and add to your liking. The ramen come in three broths of soy sauce, garlic pork, and miso, at three degrees of spiciness, and the garnishes of sliced pork, quail egg, roasted garlic, greens and saffron. Available toppings included boiled egg, bamboo shoots, corn, kimchi, and many other standard favorites. What made me gleeful was their giant slogan: “Our Ramen is not Vegetarian Food”.  As ramen broths were often pork based, I appreciated the declaration.

Before we were seated, we were inquired if all four of us will be having ramen. Which probably allowed them to prep the noodles in time, so that when we ordered they would only need to add broth and toppings. That was the second lesson: organized assembly. Efficiency was nice, but definitely added a more nervous atmosphere. The waitress stood glaring while we giggled our way through the menu, pressured to think fast. We ordered a round of beer just to buy a little bit more time.

But these tiny tests to our dedication came with great reward, the reward being our bowls of ramen. Ramen Dojo had been on the way of ramen and back a few times, the wait was not for naught. First of all, it was one of the most beautiful ramen I had seen. The bowl was filled with a gold richness containing tiny red flakes; steam rose through the pile of noodles and garnishes seducing our olfactory senses. The toppings were nearly piled, faced up with a wink. A tiny bunch of saffron acted like the ethereal red bow on the head of a brunette beauty, creating an airy structure to the image.

I had chosen the miso broth, which was rich and warmed the soul. The sliced pork was beautifully marbled, with just the right amount of fat-to-muscle ratio, its flavor deepened by the char. Tanginess of kimchi helped cut through the thick broth, giving away a crunching texture against the egg’s softness. Meanwhile, packed full of harvest’s eve, the roasted garlics melted like butter at my bite.

But the most wondrous for me were the noodles. Too often had I tasted noodles al dente at first but soon succumb to the power of the broth and sag into a sop of sadness. Not at Ramen Dojo, where their noodles were properly trainer to the way. It was almost reminiscent of spaghetti in firmness at first bite. Five minutes in, however, the ramen noodles came to life and became one with the broth: it was springing yet light, while the broth clung to their curves coating it was that extra pack of flavor.  It danced. Like the noodles at Ippudo I’ve tasted, but in a meatier symphony this time. And life was amazing.

I resurfaced twenty minutes later, tiny beads of sweat gathered on my forehead, face red and shone. The last bits of broth laid at the bottom of the bowl, last smoke of steam waving for me to consume it. My stomach was close to bursting, but somehow, my hands moved as if with minds of their own, and held the bowl up high so I could devour even the last drops of delicious soup. It is here that I learnt my third and final lesson at this place of the ramen way: there was no such thing as self-control in front of the ultimate deliciousness, such as this bowl of divine ramen.

Ramen Dojo | 805 S B Street | San Mateo, CA 94401 | 650.401.6568

 

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Raw Scallop, Uni Tempura and Kimchi Ramen @ Namu Gaji

3 Jun

Hidden next to the always-busy Bi-Rite was this little hard-to-spot eatery. Namu Gaji, the rebirth of Namu back in Inner Richmond, had opened shop by Dolores Park in mid-April. The long rectangle space with an open kitchen and neatly stacked wooden tables tout Korean and Japanese style cuisine. Their produce sourced from local farms, including their very own. And the decor somehow reflects it: clean, rustic and unassuming.

The menu was categorized by preparation: broth, salad, crispy (fried), grill and ‘comfort’ – the belly-warming carby delights. While we were surveying the menu, the restaurant brought on small pickled vegetable assortments for our enjoyment. Kimchi, sesame tossed Chinese broccoli, and bean sprouts; all house-made. The kimchi had a nice texture, though missing the customary sweetness comes from Asian pear (often used in the kimchi-pickling process).

We started with a really lovely raw dish. The sliced scallops arrived on a glass plate looking like a neatly painted flower. It was a petit symphony of flavors. Tangy and sweet from the tangerine slices, sparks of heat from the red pepper. Sliced battera konbu gave way to a reminder of the ocean, all while the sliced scallop – trembling at touch then soft and embracing at taste – set up the perfect envelope for all the flavors. It was clean and vibrant like the first sunny day at sea.

Following the raw we had a crispy: fried uni wrapped in shiso and other tempura vegetables. Uni and I had been faithful for years, oh you yellow spoonful of the ocean’s essence. Any time, any where. If there is uni on the menu, I will order it. Uni and fois gras, but I digress. Yet this dish, with all my passionate hopes, had failed in the use of uni. I could barely taste it. Overpowered by the shiso, the batter, and the sauce atop – and probably fried for a bit too long – the uni became faint and shriveled. $12 piece of sadness. The ‘onion rings’ were nice though.

Our comfort came in the form of Namu Gaji’s limited-supply ramen, serving only 24 orders a day. A kimchi ramen (a popular stable back in the motherland, according to  my Korean companion) with some unconventional toppings: hot dog and panko-cursted then fried egg. Needless to say, we had high expectations. The egg was a great touch: the panko crust soaked up the broth nicely, yet still maintained its crunch. The center of the egg was of course gooey and delicious. Ah, my golden melty sunlight of joy. But everything else fell a bit short. The ramen itself needed a bit more work and springiness. Might be the kimchi and the hot dog, but the broth felt a little dead with saltiness. Hot dog was a fun idea, but I wasn’t sure this would be its place.

All in all, I thought Namu Gaji had great potential to be something truly wonderful. It was nice, but not quite enough. And at the price range offered, I felt that we should expect more. They were certainly capable of intricate flavor-building, manifested through the beautiful scallop dish. Maybe just more experimenting, and less hot dog.

Namu Gaji | 499 Dolores St. | San Francisco, CA | 415.431.6268