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Jan 15, 2005 04:26 AM

Napa Cabbage Shoyu Ramen @ Santa, San Mateo

  • m

On Monday William and I returned to Santa in San Mateo for dinner. We wanted to try some of the other ramen topping/flavor combinations as well as order some appetizers. Arriving at 7:35pm, we had only a 10-minute wait inside for a couple seats to open up at the counter. Unfortunately, the stewed pork was already sold out, which is reputed to be Santa’s strength, as well as the pork flavor broth.

My brother had the miso corn ramen. Topped with a pile of corn, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, negi, and roast pork, this was enjoyable but he wasn’t that excited by the combination. The miso flavor had an earthy edge and good depth, plus sweet highlights from the kernels of corn, but seemed a little flat and ended up monotonal.

The napa cabbage ramen in a shoyu broth that I ordered was just lovely. The broth was the lightest colored shoyu stock I’ve had in this series yet it was deliciously meaty in flavor with a moderately glycerined mouth feel and bits of rich pork fat floating on the surface. The shoyu seasoning had a very refined taste and restrained saltiness. The napa cabbage offered a fresh sweetness, and the addition of daikon shoots for peppery bite and juicy green crispness was brilliant. The bamboo shoots had a sweet aftertaste, and the slices of fresh shitake added a silky-textured earth tone. I loved the elegance and balance of this offering.

We had both ordered extra noodles, and they are still very good. Not as wide as I remembered, yet very silky and slurpable with a nice chewiness. The napa cabbage ramen was the best combination I’ve tried here so far, however, the roast pork continues to be Santa’s weak point. Trimmed into neat rectangles, this time it was fattier and not as dry, but still lacked much flavor.


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  1. We had ordered a couple appetizers from the dinner menu as well. The grilled chicken gizzards came two skewers to an order. In using too much force to push the first piece off the bamboo, I managed to ricochet it off my plate and then it bounced along the counter. William rolled his eyes and suggested that I twist the skewer while pushing off the meat, and this worked much better with the rest of my food landing on the plate. The gizzards had quite a rubbery texture that might be better suited to game pieces nonetheless. The salting wasn’t that interesting or the intrinsic flavor that intense.

    We liked the kara-age better. When we were waiting for a seat, William had been carefully studying the plates served to other customers. The well-browned crusty batter looked hard and crunchy, not unlike KFC’s extra crispy to him, but would the meat be dried out or stay juicy? He was happy to find that the big chunks of dark meat cut from the thigh were well-marinated and succulent. On first bite, he nodded his head and said, “yeah, it has the skin and crunches like ‘extra crispy’. We still like Ryowa’s better, but we would order this again at Santa.

    Santa’s careful compositions, silky noodles, and polished broths still rate very highly with us. But the sliced roast pork keeps it second to Halu in our estimation. We’ll have to come back for the stewed pork some time to see whether that might put it over the top.

    Santa Ramen & Grill
    805 South B St
    San Mateo


    1. Ramen Halu, San Jose
    2. Santa, San Mateo
    3.&4. Ryowa, Mountain View and Berkeley
    5. Himawari, San Mateo
    6. Maru Ichi, Mountain View
    7. Tanto, Sunnyvale
    8. Gen Ramen, Fremont
    9. Masa’s Sushi, Mountain View
    10.Tomoe, San Rafael
    11.Do-Henkotsu, San Jose
    12.Kaimuki Grill, San Mateo
    13.Ramen Club, Burlingame
    14.Sushi Bistro, San Francisco
    15.Lakuni, San Mateo
    16.Iroha, San Francisco
    17.Manpuku, Berkeley
    18.Tanpopo, San Francisco
    19.Suzu Noodle House, San Francisco
    20.Oidon, San Mateo
    21.Katanaya, El Cerrito
    22.Sapporo-ya, San Francisco
    23.Tokyo Ramen, Milpitas
    24.Hotei, San Francisco
    25.Bear’s Ramen House, Berkeley



    1. Awesome! I'll give that combo a try next time.

      Though I've had the napa cabbage with tonkotsu (pork) soup, which is excellent in itself. The shitake mushroom slices taste especially nice in it. Also good is bean sprouts (in place of cabbage).

      2 Replies
      1. re: KK

        We're not much for bean sprouts, something my bro and I might have inherited from our dad. I think this might have interferred with William's enjoyment of the miso stock, as that had lots of bean sprouts.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          i totally agree. for me, spouts can kill an otherwise excellent bowl of noodles. i have always felt that their flavor is essentially that of slightly dirty water, which cannot be redeemed by their otherwise pleasant texture. when i finally made it to halu, i was disappointed to find a generous amount of sprouts in their special spicy ramen, which is why i reverse the first two places in your rankings. i actually avoid ordering any bowl that advertises their presence.
          also, the pork pictured in your latest bowl from santa does not at all look representative of their best. you'll just have to go again.
          your vivid description of the other toppings is nevertheless enticing. i'll just have to go too.

      2. d
        Dale Yamashita

        Hi Melanie,

        William told me about your dinner at Santa. Santa's one of my favorites (Sam and Em love it), and luckily we live close by. We usually try to get in line at 1115 (for lunch) or 515 (for dinner) in order to be served in a timely fashion. We have little impatient brats y'know.

        I ALWAYS get the stewed pork in Soy Bean broth. With extra noodles. Connie prefers the Pork broth. The lunch set w/ Chicken Karaage is a bargain, and the texture of their white rice is great. Trying to sneak a peek at their brand of rice...

        Personally, the broth at Halu has a little funny "foreign" flavor that I cannot pinpoint. This detracts from my enjoyment enough that Santa comes out on top. Too bad, since I work close by Halu. The texture of the noodles at Halu is slightly better; just a tad more al dente.

        Nothing else in the area comes close to these two...


        6 Replies
        1. re: Dale Yamashita

          Some day we shall sample the stewed pork at Santa. I had toyed with the idea of calling you to head over there to sign us up on the list! Fortunately, it wasn't as long a wait as our previous visit.

          Santa makes a stylish bowl of ramen with each component added in precise proportions to hit the desired nuance. What are Sammy and Emily's favorites?

          The "foreign" flavor that bothers me in Halu's ramen is the fermented bamboo shoots. This seems to vary a bit from batch to batch, and when it is particularly strong, I quickly pull the bamboo out of the bowl before it infects the balance of the broth. I don't like it, but I understand this strength of flavor and aroma is part of the artisanship.

          Maybe you can join us when William and I finally revisit Do-henkotsu. It has been fun having William with me on about half these ramen runs. He picks up different things than I do and has his own preferences though we're pretty much aligned overall on our rankings.

          1. re: Melanie Wong
            Dale Yamashita

            Sam, Em and I just had lunch there this noon. Got there at about 1105 and there was one foursome in front of us. Seated at 1130 sharp, food at 1155, outa there at 1225. Not bad @ 80 minutes.

            Connie had to work so it was just the three of us. We ordered their usual tonkotsu original w/ pork broth (the kids share this), and I had my usual stewed pork w/ soy bean broth w/ extra noodles. You should ask them to hold the bean sprouts as they pile them on w/ this particular combo. I can live with or without 'em. We ordered two lunch sets w/ Chicken karaage and white rice. I give one of them my rice/chicken and so they each have one whole rice/chicken set. The perfect amount of food. We always do this (we have had most every other combo and we prefer this to all the others), so call us boring.

            I love bamboo shoots. I love the ones at Santa. I'll have to pay attention to the bamboo shoots at Halu the next time around. Connie seemed to think that the foreign flavor was some mushroom in the broth, but she wasn't certain.

            1. re: Dale Yamashita

              Eighty minutes end to end, wow, I wouldn't say the little bugs are impatient. With that big clock on the wall, it is possible to keep track of every minute in each stage. Fortunately, our wait was much shorter, we were out in an hour. I even grabbed a pair of wool socks and my gloves on my way out to have in the car in case I had a long wait outside. (g)

              I love the sweet sake-like taste of the bamboo shoots at Santa. Halu's are much yeastier and primal.

              1. re: Melanie Wong
                Dale Yamashita

                That eighty minutes, remember, included 25 minutes outside in line. The kids could yell and scream and hit each other and run around and be as impatient as the circumstances would allow. And unlike me, the kids eat slowly; we coulda been out sooner. If it was just me, I would get blisters on my palate from the hot soup in order to rush out!!

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              I would pause on the Do-Henkotsu trip a bit. The chef has just come back from the annual vacation and the broth is again a little bit on the lighter side. It may take a few weeks for the flavor to come back full force.


              1. re: tanspace

                Haha, that was the excuse when I was there last March! I'm trying to wrap up all this noodling by Chinese NY.