Ramen has been playing its part as the next big thing. I remember it as just a lowly snack food eaten by students and singles, something we bought at the dollar store. But then, Monta’s high-class Japanese ramen in pork broth took us by storm, and an avalanche followed: Ramen Sora, Anime Ramen and, lately, two more places.
Shoku Ramen-ya is the lovechild of Bachi Burger’s Lorin Watada. It’s a narrow space with lots of blond wood and seating along the perimeter of a wall facing the kitchen. Tables are stocked with condiments to sprinkle onto your noodles—shichimi (a red powder with a citrus kick), a shaker of sesame seeds, chopped garlic. As with at Bachi Burger next door, the kitchen here can be slow. But it’s worth the wait.
The basic idea here is to choose your broth—soy, miso or spicy miso, to name three—and then add your toppings, which can be anything from a boiled or poached egg to cod roe or pickled mustard greens. The menu does some of the choosing for you.
Tonkotsu ramen is probably the signature dish, chewy noodles topped with sliced pork, umeboshi (a kind of Japanese apricot often referred to as a plum), bamboo shoots and kikurage (wood ear mushroom). It’s delicious, more so if you pay extra for Berkshire pork cheeks, which quite literally melt in the mouth. The noodles, of course, do not. The bite is significant, so expect a chewy texture similar to pasta al dente.
There are other options on this menu. The gyoza, pan-fried pork dumplings with a ground-pork and green-onion filling, are beautifully crisped, but at six to an order, quite unsubstantial. Bacon takana garlic fried rice, topped with a fried egg, is filling, though, with a wickedly crunchy texture. It could be my favorite dish on this menu.
Instead of the traditional kara-age (think Japanese chicken McNuggets), Watada does chicken wings, also lightly battered and deep-fried. For dessert, there is black sesame ice cream, an odd confection that Ben & Jerry’s isn’t exactly beating down the door to interpret.
Not far from Shoku Ramen-ya is Fukumimi, the name meaning “lucky ear” in the fractured language some refer to as Japlish. Big ears are admired in Japanese culture. A few Shinto gods have them, if you look at various woodcuts and statues depicting their likenesses.
As with Shoku Ramen-ya, the broth here is based on pork bones, and is cooked low and slow like American barbecue, probably for about one full day. Again, we are in a tight space, shoved up against a wall, but this time, with a better view of the kitchen, which is partially obscured by cloth banners. But since this bowl o’ noodles rivals any in town, suck it up.
The menu is smaller here, and you’ll have to ask for those extra condiments, which the servers keep on a sideboard by the kitchen. And the ambience is strictly Japanese. Servers speak minimal English, and most of the customers are speaking Japanese; there is a Japanese market next door, where you can buy manga and Pocky.
The menu is small but packs a punch. Tonkotsu is again the specialty, but there is chicken ramen, as well, and my choice, the tantan men, a spicy Szechuan-style soup so heavily spiked with sesame sauce as to take on a pale gray color until the fire-engine-red ground pork is added in a golf ball-size scoop.
I’m generally not a fan of Japanese curry, a golden-color sludge eaten over steamed rice, but the one at Fukumimi is very tasty, stocked with tiny bits of chicken. And the soboro bowl, real Japanese kid food, is even better—soy-infused ground chicken and pickles that you eat with a spoon with more rice.
Instant ramen seems like a distant memory now.