“So, hey… I’m already missing Tokyo and their good sushi. Name me a place here that taste half-decent.”
That’s the question I posted to my local-ish Japanese friend (Miho, sorry). I just came back from Tokyo and I have a lot of pictures to post here, but the thing is, even before I can start working on those scripts, I have been craving for that fresh melt in your mouth umami sushi. Turns out, she can’t name me a single decent priced authentic Japanese sushi place 3 hours radius around small town Delaware. Howeve, she did let out a name, a not bad ramen shop near UPenn.
Trusting Miho’s judgment, we (Dp & Mx, and me) found ourselves at Ramen bar on a Saturday lunch, couple of seconds after a huge breakfast. My tummy will try to find some space for that ramen, if needed. The reason I’m doing this is this – I want to try some Japanese food before the authentic flavor I had in Japan evaporates away from my tongue forever. It’s curious to note that the restaurant is only 1/4 full when we walked in at 1.30pm. It is definitely late for lunch, but not that late, am I right? I’m not complaining though – the last thing I want is to wait for 2 hours only to find out the food is inadequate for the time wasted. The place is pretty darn nice looking, a modern twist on a typical Japanese ramen shop half a world away. The wooden walls line a very long corridor, with chefs preparing noodles in front of an elongated bar and the cuts of various fishes are on display in an enclosed case. The design contains the gist of any Japanese noodle shop, except that this place is bright and vibrant, with tall ceiling, huge glass windows, LEDs bursting in colors and very spacious corridor to maneuver around. I’m enjoying the decor.
There are basically two main kinds of ramen, tonkotsu and shoyu. Stick to shoyu unless you like tonkotsu, that’s my basic rule of thumb. There are a couple of variations on these two flavors and you can add different toppings, including meat and egg, onto your bowl of noodle. Here is a tip (our waitress told us secretly), get the chashumen upgrade if you are going to get the (chashu) meat topping because it cost less than to order them a la carte. There are also a huge selection for appetizers, considering this is a ramen bar. I got that sushi “appetizer”; both the sashimi and sushi appetizers are rather cheap (6/5 slices for $9). It seems like you can order these individually but our menu did not include this option.
Apparently, there are two different kinds of noodles, each for a different ramen broth. Mine, the shoyu ramen, uses a thicker noodle and is stiffer than I like it. The tonkotsu ramen, on the other hand, uses a thinner noodle. They give a pretty generous bowl of ramen and soup, with lots of free toppings and even included a slice of naruto (fish cake) in my bowl. The soup base is good, and so are all the other toppings, except the chashu itself. I was kind of full after the sushi appetizer and from breakfast, so my opinion is bias and I acknowledge that. For the current me, the chashu is rather thick and heavy, too greasy for my liking. To me, the chashu is probably the weakest in my opinion and the noodle is too al dente, but my friend disagrees with me and thinks that the chashu is awesome.
I might return for the bowl of ramen, but I will probably return for the sushi. The nigiri(s) are really well done on average. In the order from left to right, the five sushi are eel, shrimp, yellowtail, salmon and tuna. Besides the fact that they put too much wasabi in my tuna sushi and some of the cuts have too high meat to rice ratio (then again, who the heck am I supposed to complain about that. This is a first world problem), the sushi are great. They tasted pretty fresh and I enjoyed the rice and the amount of wasabi added to each of them. This might be less intuitive, but this combination of ramen and sushi helped to balance the flavor with the sushi clearing my palette from the rather oily ramen.
Ramen bar is a great place to grab some Japanese food. The ramen is as authentic as it gets in this part of the world, and the sushi is stellar, even if both of these dishes still have some rooms for improvement. For the price range and location, I’ll not be surprise to hear if it is crowded with UPenn students during lunch time. This is such a great establishment and I wish there is a similar restaurant near my campus. Alas, we all can dream a little bit, can’t we?
Address: 4040 Locust Street, Philadelphia 19104 PA
Visited: January 31, 2015 at 1.30pm for lunch.