Miso Izakaya’s Ramen Lunch
September 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
I am by no means an expert on ramen, but I have been spoiled in that I’ve had the opportunity to have a few fantastic bowls of a few types in both Tokyo and Taipei. This privilege has been both a blessing and a curse as it’s left me with an insatiable craving for something equally as good closer to home as well as established some lofty standards for everything else to measure up to. The bowls of ramen I had overseas were not my first specimens–I began my search around Atlanta at Shoya Izakaya and Yakitori Jinbei–but what I experienced on that side of the world really were something magical and set the tone for outstanding broth, tender pork, and pristine garnishes. I have since tried ramen here at Tomo, Raku, and Umaido. Some where better than others (one in particular I had no desire to finish), but none came close enough to my memories to truly satisfy me.
I have heard tales of the ramen at Miso Izakaya on occasional late nights, but I wasn’t up to date enough with social media to be aware and generally I wasn’t prepared to fight a crowd for it. As soon as it seemed to have appeared, it faded away with the announcement that it was too much work to serve with everything else. Fortunately enough, they have very recently opened up a lunch service there where they only serve ramen so constantly checking twitter and fighting crowds for the elusive ramen are unnecessary. Although they will still potentially run out of broth at some point, but as far as I could gather that seems to be by 1:30 during their first week of opening which is not intimidating.
So I finally took the time to check out a bowl today. Despite all the accolade, I honestly wasn’t expecting much based on my other experiences here. So how did this bowl measure up?
I wandered in close to noon to ensure service just in case. The area that they are utilizing for lunch at this time is seating for about 9 people at the bar and 8 more at the communal table. The rest of dining area that I’m used to from evening visits is roped off, and I have no idea if they intend to expand their lunch service to include this area or not, but I liked the communal ramen-ya vibe that the seating area gave. The atmosphere was lively and diverse with the buzz of conversation and the upbeat J-pop playing in the background. As far as I can tell, there is no designated hostess. Just look around for a seat and wait for someone to come to you.
When I arrived, there were a few seats available, but a group of about 5 came in after me and had to wait a short while. I could imagine if this continues to maintain its level of popularity, it could be difficult to bring a group. The service was very quick as makes sense since given the short amount of time it takes to assemble each bowl, so the group didn’t seem to have to wait for more than five minutes. The dining area seemed to be run by only one woman in the front who was constantly scurrying about, but who was very efficient.
The menu reads simply enough. $11 will get you a bowl of either shoyu, a soy sauce flavored broth or tonkotsu, a creamier broth resulting from rendered pork bones and pork fat. I appreciated the simplicity of having only these options because it made me believe that they were indeed focusing all of their efforts on the quality of just two broths.
I chose shoyu, and this is what your bowl will look like if you are sitting in the darker end of the bar tucked away from the windows:
pork shoulder, menma, egg, naruto, scallions, spinach
The first scent that I noticed when the bowl was placed before me was that mild fishiness I associate with naruto which is the quirky looking white flower-shaped garnish with the pink swirl. Naruto is a Japanese product made of processed white fish which is then steamed into a chewy, spongy loaf before being sliced to use as garnish. At first, I found the aroma to be a little off putting, but I soon came to accept it as a fitting accompaniment in that it reflects some of the oceanic qualities hidden in the layers of the broth’s flavors.
Upon tasting the broth, I discovered a wonderful, velvety texture that comes from the right amount of fat and the thickness that only a long simmering time and care can give. The primary note was the warmth and saltiness of the soy sauce with mellow stock overtones and other umami, slightly funky notes of kombu. It’s the kind of broth you can marvel at the subtle levels of complexity if you like as the flavors seemed to develop nicely as I continued to taste it.The noodles had the great chew factor that I enjoy in ramen although the fresh, refrigerated variety that I’ve picked up from Asian markets is equally as good. I’m not sure if these are made in house or from a similar source, but there is no need to consider that fact a deterrent as I found these to be cooked the proper amount and felt they played well with the broth.The rest of the garnishes were simple although more rustic than I’ve experienced. Despite initially thinking I would have preferred some fresh young bamboo shoots, I grew to love the tanginess the few slices of menma (fermented bamboo shoots) brought to the broth. The egg happily had a looseness to the yolk which I stirred into the broth although lacked the same custardy richness I associate with a perfect ramen egg. The few slices of pork were soft and tasty like a nice pork roast would be, but I found them to be chewier than the thin, fatty, melt-on-your-tongue pieces I’ve had before.
I realize that broth is allowed and encouraged to vary wildly so in some cases it’s difficult to compare one to another, but this version seems to have a broth that was created with great attention and care that easily makes it the best I’ve had in Atlanta so far. Is it to the level of magnificence of what I experienced in and around Japan? Sadly, no. Perhaps that will come with time. However, I enjoyed it and can say that most people will love it and for good reason. As the weather gets colder, it’s going to be nice to have something like this inside of the perimeter for easy access as well. I’m happy that they chose to open up this special lunch service and encourage people to try ramen this way if they never have before.
For showing great promise in my ramen quest, I’ll bestow it my “bathe-in-ramen” stamp of approval that I obtained in Tokyo.
Have you had lunch at Miso Izakaya? Have you tried other ramen in Atlanta or elsewhere? I encourage you to spread the knowledge and share your thoughts in the comments below!