after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

Posts Tagged ‘Nojo Ramen

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

An Ode to SF Ramen

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t says:  When thinking about what SF is best at, I am often tempted to say: “separating you from your money”.  If you have $10, $100, or $1000 in your wallet, SF will have innumerable options on how to spend it … all of it.  Consequently, g and I have had to show a little more restraint when it comes to eating out.  In what I will now call “The Midatlantic Years”, we’d go to dinner, blow $100 at some of the “best” restaurants in town and be super-satisfied that we pretty much got “the best” of whatever was available.  Now, in the “The Bay Area Years”, we are a little bit more cautious.  There’s always some chef somewhere who wants to find a way to squeeze in a little bit of foie, or truffle, or saffron, to bump prices.  Or they want to use the chicken they raised in their backyard along with the fish they raised in their bathtub.  Or they want to use the fruit that was hand-harvested by blind, armless monks.  Fortunately, SF also has a ton of answers to the tasting menu insanity, with an abundance of reasonably priced places weaved throughout the wallet landmines.  For g and me, ramen is one of these answers.  For g, it’s like pasta … a nice al dente pasta … which really tugs at her South Jersey Italian heart strings (which are right next to her adopted kimchi-loving Korean heart strings).  For me, it’s the way something that’s supposed to be so “homely” is so full of persnickety precision – an existential crisis in food.  And we both love that it’s never over $18 (or if it is, we refuse).

As we mentioned last time, we hit up Itani Ramen in Oakland.  It was ok, but you could probably gather from my tone that I wasn’t as pleased with it as I had hoped.  And now, after a bit more “research”, I can say without a doubt that it is the worst ramen we’ve had in SF (coming second even to the ramen food truck).  Welcome to our ramen showdown …


The first ramen place we went to was highly recommended.  A Japanese work colleague, who has admitted to being kind of a ramen fanatic, managed to visit over 10 ramen shops in SF and said that without a doubt, the best ramen in the city is Orenchi Beyond.  That’s some pretty high praise.  Now I don’t know the identity of the other 9 shops, but hey – if he says it’s the best, then we knew we had to get there and have it be the standard by which all others were judged.  We. Loved. It.  g was shocked.  Having gone for the “Beyond Ramen”, g loved the porky, salty, smoky flavor combination (and she’s not one to really like pork above any other meat); I had instant food envy.  There was something about that bowl of soup – it was just a very intense mouthful (you better like garlic).  The noodles were of a pretty good consistency and flavor as well, but let’s face it, the real champ here was the broth.  It was so good that we took the remaining broth home and made our own ramen using some instant ramen noodles we picked up at the Korean grocer (we’re cheap like that).   I still can’t figure out why this place didn’t have a line out the door – must be it’s awkward location.



While at Orenchi Beyond, I did the Tsukemmen, which is a dipping noodle.  The sauce was delightful (with a nice spice in there), but baby corn and the brussels sprouts just didn’t quite do it for me.  I feel like they tried a little too hard to California it.  Additionally, while I know that the noodles are supposed to be not-hot (i.e. room temp), they were a bit too congealed for my taste.  Alas, I wont’ be having any food dreams about the Tsukemmen … only the Beyond Ramen above.



Next up is Iza ramen.  Now this place did have a line out the door, but it sped through nicely.  I have to say that noodle for noodle, I enjoyed Iza’s better than Orenchi.  Also, the pork was superb, and the kimchi-on-the-side option featured some pretty decent kimchi to accompany the ramen … but that’s just it – I felt like I needed the kimchi to give the broth some extra oomph.  Don’t get me wrong – I’d be absolutely thrilled if Iza was our local ramen shop (I’d go there all the time!), but the broth just won’t unseat Orenchi Beyond’s.  I will say that Iza does get extra points, however, for having a Three Twins just across the street.


So now we go to Coco Ramen.  This place is a little peculiar.  We knew that it clearly said “Coco’s Ramen” on the sign, but I think there was another sign that said “Coco’s Sushi” or something like that (and I think our check said “Crazy Sushi and Ramen”).  My advice is find the address, stick it into your GPS, and persevere – you will be rewarded with food bliss.  Above is obviously not ramen, rather it’s the Kabocha.  This is essentially a Scotch egg … but instead of meat, there’s squash (?pumpkin?), and it’s drizzled in what is essentially the “eel roll sauce” and the “spicy mayo sauce” that you typically see at Americanized sushi joints.  But it was delicious.  A weird cross between fried ice cream (thin shell and sweet eel sauce) and spicy sushi and savory egg.  I still can’t figure out why I liked it, because as I write this, I realize that it sounds so totally gross.



So enter the ramen.  Now this ramen was amazing.  I’d say it was Orenchi-good.  While not having the same amount of smoke or briny salt, you could elect for just a smidege of spice (which I did), and it was perfectly balanced.  And that pork belly – oh that pork belly – it was magically tender and full-flavored – so much more than just a braised piece of belly (I wonder what they braised it in?).  But wait.  The real ingredient that pushed this bowl into greatness was the bean sprouts.  These were crisp and flavorful – almost peppery – cutting through the more unctuous and umami flavors.  They were like super-sprouts, moreso robust than those in any other ramen dish I’ve had.  Between how wonderful the ramen was, how much fun the other appetizers looked (I wanted to order so much more), and the great “neighborhood joint” feel (no million dollar ambience here), I think this place is my fave.  However, g and her friend ventured the Shoyu, and while she can’t recall specifics, she knows that it was not better than Orenchi Beyond (too bad she didn’t have any of my Tonkotsu).  So we’ll call it a “tie” for now … I guess we’ll wait for the revisit!



And here’s where Coco gets a second little extra nod from me: nearby ice cream.  This grasshopper pie ice cream (with fudge) is brought to you by local ice cream champ Mitchell’s.  Known for a lot of “crazy” flavors (less like Bi-Rite concoctions, rather, more “natural”/”seasonal” flavors), we did play it a bit safe (none of us got any of the fun Hawaiian flavors), but next time … oh next time …


And for our final ramen visit, enter Nojo Ramen.  Knowing its location in Hayes Valley, I knew that they’d have to bring some thunder to survive.  After reading the little synopsis on Eater and hearing that g’s colleagues labeled it more “California style”, I was suspicious that locals loved how “unique” it was, as it was chicken-based rather than pork.  Consequently, I ready to hate all over it – like ALL over it.  I know what you’re thinking: “why even go?”.  Well, it was convenient … and I needed this post to have a bad guy – I couldn’t just say “all these ramen places are great” and leave it at that, because what’s the fun, right?  As we waited outside for our name got closer and closer to the top of the list, a starving g and t pondered: which would we get?  With the absence of a tonkotsu option, I knew I was going to have to get “the one with the chicken leg” … and so was g … so we each got the “chicken paitan soy sauce”.  It. Was. Insane.  Like really insane.  Like I almost hate myself for liking it so much.  I really do.  Every single thing was perfect.  The chicken was perfect, from the texture of the meat to the browning of the skin to the dark meat flavor (it was braised wonderfully).  The egg was perfectly soft-boiled.  And while pork was absent from the party, there was instead a creamy miso and briny fish powder for the soup base, accented with a fistful of super-bright, super-fresh scallion.  And gawd: that fried gobo was an unexpectedly delightful addition.  Wait wait wait!  But did it beat Orenchi Beyond? …  Kinda?  Maybe? … It’s complicated … It’s not another “tie”, rather, I think of Nojo’s dish less like a “superb bowl or ramen”, rather, “the best chicken noodle soup I’ve ever had”.  (To this end, the noodles lacked the alkaline punch that most ramens have, so it was textured like a ramen noodle, but not quite flavored like one). So in the end, Nojo is a winner of a different category.  And you can bet your bunsen burner that we took home our remaining broth – this is going to be a wonderful second dinner (it’s in our fridge right now!).  We also know that we’re definitely going back to try out the rest … (I will say, though – the desserts looked kinda weak-sauce … I wonder where are the best ice cream joints in the area … ?)

Written by afterdinnersneeze

19 November 2016 at 3:51pm