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New York Style Ramen @ Kumako in San Jose

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The ramen shop slated to take over the space that housed Yasu in San Jose's Japantown opened last week. Named Kumako ("little bear"), it specializes in New York-style ramen. This was a new one for me. Luckily, one of the partners was parked at the counter where I could ask a few questions.

Image of Kumako's facade -
http://static.flickr.com/84/247209904...

The two owners both grew up in Northern California but have spent most of their lives in New York, owning and managing Japanese restaurants. They've come "home" for their later years and decided that inexpensive ramen was what Japantown needed. One had managed Men Kui Tei in Manhattan and brought those recipes with him. They described their stocks as lighter and spicier than what we seem to be used to out here.

I asked the cooking partner what stocks he specialized in. He fingered the shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu, saying that the miso was a blend of bean pastes. Shio, curry, and tan tan men are also offered, as well as a hiyashi ramen. Later, the other said he thought the miso was the most special. But I'd already ordered the tonkotsu at that point.

The tonkotsu (pork bone) stock is milky colored as described to me and indeed much lighter in weight and less greasy than the other Hakata style broths around here. While thinner, it did have attractive spiced complexity from garlic, a healthy dose of ginger, and a whiff of anise and was only moderately salted. I drank every drop of the soup and didn't need to down a gallon of water afterwards. Toppings are rather spare, just char shu, fermented bamboo shoots, nori, and bean sprouts, and there are no other toppings offered other than extra char shu. I liked that the bean sprouts were lightly sauteed until wilted which brought out more flavor. The char shu was a little hard, but definitely has potential. Thick cut, the pork slices had a tasty marinade and roasted character. I asked my server twice to request my noodles "firm" and "hard", but the ramen turned out softish. Also, these fresh noodles are not made with alkaline water and have an unattractive gummy, tackiness to the texture.

Image of tonkotsu ramen -
http://static.flickr.com/93/247209905...

Presentation is not a strong point here. This is simple work-a-day ramen, value priced at $6.90 per bowl. The partner I spoke with said that they're still tweaking the recipes and training staff. Generally I would advise staying away from a new place while they work out the kinks. However, in this case, it might be better to go now while the founders are still keeping an eye on things and tasting everything.

From this early sampling, Kumako earns #22 on the ramen rankings. I'll be returning some time soon and would expect it to rise as things settle down.

Kumako
211 E. Jackson St.
San Jose 95112
408-286-2111
Closed Sundays
Beer only

PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Santa, 805 S B St, San Mateo
3. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley
4. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
5. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
6. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
7. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
8. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
9. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
10.BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
11.Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
12.Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
13.Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
14.Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
15.Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
16.Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
17.Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
18.Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
19.Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed
)20.Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
21.Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
22.Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
23.Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
24.Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
25.Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino
26.Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino
27.Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
28.Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
29.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
30.King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark
31.Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
32.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
33.Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
34.Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
35.H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
36.Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
37.Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
38.Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
39.Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
40.Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
41.La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
42.Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
43.Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
44.Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
45.Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas
46.Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
47.Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
48.Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
49.Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
50.Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

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  1. Thanks for sniffing this out, Melanie. How exciting to have a new ramen place in Japantown! I have no idea how you can remember the quality of every single ramen bowl and then decide to insert this at #22, but I'm sure you have an amazing food memory and refer back to old posts. I look forward to trying Kumako because while I loved Halu, it was so rich and salty that that was all I could eat for an entire day.

    Questions:

    1) Do you know if Yasu is re-opening elsewhere or what will become of the chef?

    2) Did you notice any progress being made on the Nijiya market that is opening up?

    7 Replies
    1. re: Carb Lover

      I had this for dinner yesterday at 5pm when it opened, and I definitely took note that I didn't have a lard coma afterwards (unlike most other ramen). Even had room for dessert later last night. If you eat the whole thing, the portion is just right for a complete meal for me. The spicing of the broth is interesting especially the hotness of the ginger. I've had red ginger added as a garnish elsewhere, here the flavor is infused in the stock and seeps into the noodles.

      I asked if Brett Yasukawa was associated with this new venture. They said "no", other than being their friend. I didn't ask about his progress but I bet they know.

      Nijiya isn't open yet, which surprised me. I could see final fitting materials inside, so it might be not too far off, a couple months.

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I sure hope Yasukawa finds a new location for Yasu soon, and in Silicon Valley. I thought Yasu was the most original, refreshing restaurant to open in years here. If he does find his ideal place, with a sushi bar and bigger kitchen, count me in as a regular.

        1. re: Hoss

          Yasu closed before I had a chance to try it, something that I regret greatly. I bet if you stop by Kumako and chat up the owners, you could get an update. Please let us know.

          1. re: Hoss

            Thanks for the cool comments Hoss, this is Yasu. I am talking with a few different investors but I am going mostly to drink the beer so far. We will see what becomes of me. (see my reply to Carb Lover below).

            1. re: yasutoko

              Yasu,
              Obviously I've been off this site for a while. I saw your reply to Carb Lover, and I'm bummed you won't be opening a place in the South Bay. Let us know if you have any developments. I will get up there and try your place when you open. Good luck, Hoss

        2. re: Carb Lover

          Hello Carb Lover, this is Yasu. I am currently on a long vacation but looking to make a debut sometime soon. I have been talking to investors, looking and talking to fellow restaurateurs. Although all of the talk is mostly just reconnecting myself in the industry, who knows where I might end up. I am living in San Francisco, so whatever I do will be up in North Bay. Nijiya market is now projecting to open this winter and when it becomes winter, they will project spring 07.

          1. re: yasutoko

            Please keep us updated as to your whereabouts. I'd love to try your new restaurant, wherever it ends up being

        3. very disappointed, bland soup, the meat was really good but not enough, won't be going back

          1 Reply
          1. re: kewlio

            Which stock did you try?

          2. miso + tonkatsu
            "stock" as u call it is really the weak part, very watery and not enough flavor: for example, the bamboo they added overtook the whole tonkatsu. miso was a bit better

            the noodles were kinda soft but i could deal with, i need to find another ramen place that does meat like here, kinda blew my mind

            1 Reply
            1. re: kewlio

              Thanks for expanding our trial run. Yeah, I know what you mean about the meat. That was the best part about the ramen at BY Grill, now closed, similarly roasted.

            2. BTW, #30 King's Garden Ramen has been closed for a while.