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Kara-age and Chashu Ramen @ Niko Niko Sushi (Katanaya), San Francisco

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Returning to the City late last night, I cruised down O'Farrell planning to drive by Niko Niko Sushi to see if it had turned into a ramen house per stuart's post below. At 10:30pm, that rarity of rarities, a parking space right in front, was a signal from the ramen dieties that I was supposed to have a late dinner here.

On Saturdays (maybe other nights too), it stays open until midnight with a last call at 11:30pm. In addition to the Niko Niko sushi menu, another dog-eared plastic-laminated page of noodle selections (ramen, udon and soba) from "Katanaya Restaurant" is presented. The waitress said that about a month ago the old chef from Katanaya got together with the owner of Niko Niko to offer his cooking here. The ramen options include three stocks (chicken, pork/chicken and miso) topped with chashu, negi, spicy tofu, kara-age, and perhaps a few other things that I've forgotten. With some negotiation I was able to order the kara-age ramen with pork broth and hard noodles with an upcharge for extra chashu for $10.50.

I had not been to the old Katanaya in the Sunset. The ramen was better than I expected from descriptions I'd read. It was greasy in appearance with a rim of clear fat around the edge of the stock as well as floating fat globules. The medium brown-colored stock itself was thin and not an emulsified, gravy-like tonkotsu-style. Despite its relative lightness, it had a deeply satisfying meaty taste and sweet porkiness. And, it didn't taste oily even though the fat component was clearly visible. Hearing from fans of the old place about the uniqueness of the stock and how much they miss it, I think I've tasted here what it is about this recipe that grabs them.

Though ordered hard, the noodles soon turned soft and limp in the bowl. They picked up some flavor from the stock, but could have used a bit more salting. The chashu (roast pork) was from a nice cut. The chewy, tender slices had an inner circle of succulent fat and a savory marinade. Wakame, fermented bamboo shoots, and scallions completed the presentation. The kara-age was handled lightly too with just a softly crisp and delicate dusting.

So, for those of you who've emailed me asking where the Katanaya chef might be, this one's for you. Please give it a try and let us know how it compares to your memories.

I'd rank this bowl at #15, neck and neck with Oyagi. It's not award-winning but will satisfy your ramen jones. It's good enough that I'll return some time to try the other stocks.

Niko Niko Sushi/Katanaya Restaurant
(across from the Hilton Hotel)
336 O'Farrell St.
San Francisco 94102
415-346-1443

PERSONAL RAMEN RANKINGS

1. Ramen Halu, San Jose
2. Santa, San Mateo
3. Ryowa, Berkeley
4. Himawari, San Mateo
5. Ryowa, Mountain View
6. Tanto, Sunnyvale
7. Maru Ichi, Mountain View
8. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, San Jose
9. Gen Ramen, Fremont
10.BY Grill, San Francisco
11.Norikonoko, Berkeley
12.Hana, San Jose
13.Masa’s Sushi, Mountain View
14.Oyaji, San Francisco
15.Niko Niko Sushi/Katanaya, San Francisco
16.Hatcho, Santa Clara
17.Maru Ichi, Milpitas
18.Tomoe, San Rafael
19.Ringer Hut, San Jose
20.Izakaya Mai, San Mateo
21.Ramen Club, Burlingame
22.Tazaki Sushi, San Francisco
23.Ramen Rama, Cupertino
24.Ogi-San Ramen, Cupertino
25.Kaimuki Grill, San Mateo
26.Tanto, San Jose
27.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), San Francisco
28.King’s Garden Ramen, Newark
29.Sushi Bistro, San Francisco
30.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, San Jose
31.Lakuni, San Mateo
32.Iroha, San Francisco
33.Miraku Noodles, Walnut Creek
34.Manpuku, Berkeley
35.Tanpopo, San Francisco
36.Sushi Yoshi, Newark
37.Suzu Noodle House, San Francisco
38.Oidon, San Mateo
39.Sapporo-ya, San Francisco
40.Kamakura, Alameda
41.Tokyo Ramen, Milpitas
42.Mama-san!, San Francisco
43.Katana-ya Ramen, El Cerrito
44.Hotei, San Francisco
45.Bear’s Ramen House, Berkeley

Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Thank you so much for the posting.

    I actually stopped by this afternoon to peek at the menus outside the restaurant, the katanaya menu posted outside the door are only for donburi's so I chickened out and did not go in. I definitely will go give it a try next time.

    1. Hi milla, please let us know how you like it. The pork was a little too salty and the stock was undersalted. They balanced each other out in the end.

      1. Wow, Melanie, thanks so much trying this place out so soon. I'm a fan of hard noodles, so the limpness of the noodles concerns me, but my GF tells me this place her friends split between haters or hard-core fans. Perhaps those who love the noodles over the soup are the haters and those who love the soup over the noodles are more likely to become hooked.

        1 Reply
        1. re: stuart

          Yep, that's the trade-off here. Any insight on which is the best broth at Katanaya?

          And, thanks again for all the great chow-info you've been sharing here. As I said, you're on fire!

        2. Thanks for the report, Melanie. I remember there being several restaurants called Katana-ya so I thought it was a chain. There was one in SJ Japantown (may still be there) and a branch at Grant and Bush in downtown SF. Neither had very good ramen, in my opinion. I too couldn't deal with the limp noodles. :-)

          1 Reply
          1. re: Wendy-san

            I was under the impression that Katanaya was a chain too. There used to be on in San Jose. I read somewhere that one reopened in SF Japantown near Tanpopo but don't know if it's true or not. If it is/was a chain, this bowl was way better than what El Cerrito's Katanaya turns out. The menu was much simpler than El Cerrito too.

            I found the old thread below that discussed Katanaya. Interestingly, chowhoundx says that the Katanaya chef is the brother of the (former) owner of Saji. That guy now owns Oyaji.

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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