after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

So much time, so much ramen.

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t says:  It has been forever since our last post.  And trust me – it’s not because we haven’t been eating.  It’s been a non-stop work-fest over here on the “Best Coast” so I let my blog-maintenance duties slide.  As a result, my phone has so many food pictures that I’ve actually forgotten where most of them are from.  I’m a disgrace of a blogger.  Can it be?  Have I transitioned to an age where blogging is more of a chore than a fun distraction?  NEVER!  I just wish it was easier to do on the fly … I wish they had telepathic blogging …

So why come back?  Well … g and I, in our quest to try every respectable bowl of ramen in the city, came across what I can only say was an absolute disaster of a noodle.  And I just can’t help myself.  I must tell someone about it.  Anyone.  Everyone.  They must be warned.

Enter Mensho Ramen.  Or, more accurately “Mensho Tokyo SF” – or whatever they want to be known as.  There were so many problems with our trip to Mensho.  The first was their ginormous line.  With a line this long, my expectations were heightened.  With so many people talking about how they loved it there [waiting in line], I figured that this was going to be great.  But – I can’t blame Mensho for their line – that’s not their fault – that’s ours; we have to stop supporting bad ramen in SF.  The second was the table setup that placed dining partners SO far away from eachother that it was difficult to talk.  Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem at a noodle house either because you’re supposed to be busy slurping noodles – not talking.  But if you’re going to run a buzzy, so-hot-right-now, packed noodle house that’s going to involve some kind of wait for noodles, then you might as well give us something to do while we wait for the order to be filled – like talk to each other.  (g does, however, give them props for the cute little baskets under the tables to put your stuff so you’re not putting your jacket on your lap while you eat.)  And finally, the biggest problem of all: the bowl was terrible.  The above Tori Paitan was ordered with double chashu (double pork shoulder) and extra duck chashu (four slices instead of two).  Let’s get the good out of the way first: the noodles, themselves, were on the thicker side with great bounce, and the duck was quite good.  But that’s where the good stopped and the bad began.  The broth – a “rich and creamy chicken soup” was insipid.  I just couldn’t understand it.  How could ramen have a bland broth with almost no flavor?  And it’s supposed to be so thick and creamy from all of delicious chicken that melted off the bone!  It blew my mind.  The burdock was similarly bland, and the greens ranged from overcooked-mushy to undercooked-why-am-I-still-raw.  For redemption: nothing actually tasted “bad” – it just didn’t have taste … which was a sad way for $19.50 to depart my wallet.  (Perhaps my tears of sadness would have added much-needed salt to the broth.) At least I was full when I was done (the best part about ramen: you don’t leave hungry).

g’s bowl, the shio with double meat, had far more flavor in the broth, bringing a nice saltiness and garlic to the party.  That said, they did manage to serve it in the most unhelpful bowl you could ever serve ramen in – with this gently sloping sides that caught effectively none of the slurp-splashes that inevitable occur with ramen eating (if you’re not slurping, you’re not eating ramen correctly).  And don’t get me wrong – while her bowl did at least have some flavor, it’s not like the kale and chives were pushing any boundaries in a positive direction.  Needless to say – g and I won’t be waiting in line at Mensho anytime soon.  (Although the two vegan people next to us seemed to enjoy their ramen …).

So now what?  Well – with acknowledging that Mensho is officially tied for the worst ramen we’ve had in the Bay Area (the other was Oakland’s Itani Ramen), here are some places that will offer you a better bowl.

Here’s the bowl from Ramen Yamadaya in Japantown (not to be confused with the relatively new Ramen Hinodeya).  This 2nd story restaurant has a little bit of an attitude problem.  The wait can be fierce (make sure you butt your way up to the front of the line to put your name on the list and then get in the line), and the host can be mean (he gets a little bit of a temper tantrum when he can’t read your handwriting), and the “instructions on how to eat ramen” that are posted are a bit condescending … but by golly this is the best ramen of the three we’ve been to in Japantown (Waraku, Hinodeya, Yamadaya).  The noodles are spot on, the broth is flavorful – both hit the right checkboxes (Hinodeya’s broth, by comparison, was far less flavorful – I can’t even find pictures of it – it was so forgettable that even my phone forgot the picture).  However, the real “winner” of this Kakuni Kotteri bowl is the pork belly: the biggest, best-done, perfectly-toothsome piece of belly is in this ramen.  Some may say that it distracts from the noodles and broth and other elements, which is fair – but sometimes you just want a ramen that puts the meat in a spotlight rather than just another tree in the background.  We gladly took some of this broth home with us – it didn’t quite have the oomph of Orenchi, but it was still worthy of a second round at home with adding some store-bought noodles.  I also give them props because one of the servers and I had a moment to geek out on our shared love of raw Japanese denim – it was pretty cool and allows me to award them bonus points.

We also ventured “The Ramen Shop” in Oakland for their twists-on-the-traditional ramens.  Above you see g’s selection of green garlic, veggie ,meyer lemon shoyu ramen which was super-refreshing.  Personally, I couldn’t handle that element of citrus for an entire bowl, but g quite liked it.  Between the arugula, Meyer lemon, and butternut squash, it didn’t really scream “ramen”, but still a very tasty soup on its own.





I went with the duck shoyu ramen which was indeed a very respectable dish of ramen.  I can’t say that the rutabaga did anything for me, and I personally like the egg yolk to be a smidge runnier, but the broth was nicely balanced and the duck was fabulous (I wish there was one more slice).  The noodles could have had just a bit more of an alkaline punch to jazz up their flavor some, but overall I was happy with our Oakland adventure.  I would not agree that it’s the best ramen in the Bay Area, but if I had any hipster friends, I’d totally send them there (it’s a little bit of a scene …).


Here’s a reminder to myself that Nojo still has our favorite chicken-based ramen.  It’s gimicky as hell to put a chicken thigh/leg in there, but it’s just so darn good.

We also hit up Izakaya Sozai as well.  I ventured the tsukemen style ramen which I have to say would have been astounding had it not suffered from one problem: temperature regulation.  The cooler ingredients (the noodle bowl) got so cool that the noodles clumped.  It also cooled down the dipping broth to the point where it, too, was below room temp.  Darn!!  I feel like the broth would have been far more expressive had it been a bit warmer by the time it hit my mouth.  As far as the noodles, they could have used ones that were a bit more irregular or had a bit more curl this way it would have really captured the broth and delivered it to my mouth much more easily.  I did eat all of it – it was still pretty good – but it had such high potential to be be excellent.

Izakaya Sozai does have these cute bacon-wrapped mochi which is pretty much the best thing ever.  It’s like a stickier/chewier bacon-wrapped gnocchi – what’s not to love?

And here we are … back at the beginning … Orenchi Beyond.  Ok, so the crown that Orenchi Beyond stole from the first moment we went there has been retained … but barely.  With bowls that offer better meat (Ramen Yamadaya), more interesting “twists” (chicken leg and addictive burdock at Nojo), or even a more profound porkiness (Coco Ramen), it’s hard to say that Orenchi is a clear winner.  However, give g and me just one place to bring an out-of-town friend to demonstrate ramen goodness of SF and the Bay, and this is where we’re going to go.  It’s garlicky, porky, and has an almost briny quality to it.  The noodles are excellent (although I’d get a double portion the next time), the pork is well-done, the additions are solid.  Just don’t get distracted by the soba or tsukemen and you’ll be fine.  Man – if only they could steal some of Coco’s bean sprouts and just a small slab of Yamadaya’s belly – it’d be the perfect bowl.

Who knows when the next post will be?  But until then – just keep eating … and sneezing.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

24 April 2017 at 4:03am

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