Kara-age and Chashu Ramen @ Niko Niko Sushi (Katanaya), San Francisco
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
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
12.Hana, San Jose
13.Masas 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.Kings 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
35.Tanpopo, San Francisco
36.Sushi Yoshi, Newark
37.Suzu Noodle House, San Francisco
38.Oidon, San Mateo
39.Sapporo-ya, San Francisco
41.Tokyo Ramen, Milpitas
42.Mama-san!, San Francisco
43.Katana-ya Ramen, El Cerrito
44.Hotei, San Francisco
45.Bears Ramen House, Berkeley
My fiance & I had tickets to "Jersey Boys" and needed a quick dinner in the area, so we looked for Katana-ya on O'Farrell. The site is now occupied by an expanced Naan N' Curry -- the phone number listed above also rings to Nn'C. However there's a Katana-ya almost directly across the street from the Curran on Geary, so we went there instead hoping the location moved.
The ramen offerings do seem to be the that reviewed earlier -- there were there stocks (soy, miso, and shio) and a choice of a "rich" version or a "light" version. I ordered the rich miso broth with kara-age; my fiance ordered beef rib donburi which came with a side of noodle (choice of ramen, soba, or udon).
My ramen was a smaller bowl than I expected, with medium-firmness of noodles and an intense brown color that looked like gravy. Five pieces of delicious fried chicken nuggets floated in the broth. The broth was not as heavy as it looked (in other words, it wasn't gravy) and had a full, fatty taste. I enjoyed it but it isn't one of my favorites (I'd rather go to Santa any day), and didn't think it was worth the $9.50 price tag.
My fiance's donburi was quite small (a bowl barely larger than a standard-size rice ball topped with a few pieces of beef ribs) and a decent-sized sized bowl of soba (it was about 2/3 the size of my bowl of ramen).
The place is quite small (probably seats around 25) and most of the clientele seemed to be tourists who wandered in off the street. It was about 1/2 to 2/3 full during our stay. While it was okay, I don't think we'd go back unless we really were in the mood for ramen and were in the area.
further to the previous...
there's shio (salt) shoyu (soy sauce) and miso broth to choose from. We like the miso best but we haven't tried the shio yet. Each broth can be ordered as "kotteri", the richer, more fatty flavoured broth, or "asari" a relatively lighter flavor, a salt and possibly seafood stock. We much prefer kotteri. If you don't specify (and you don't look like you can speak Japanese) I don't think they ask you which one and I am not sure which is the default. The place is small but it would be fun to get each of the broths in each of the formulations and do a side by side taste comparison!
The "new" Katana ya on O Farrell is pretty good, we've been a couple of times and it is our ramen of choice in the City. The broth we like is the "extra rich" I forget how you say it in Japanese but it is essentially the fattiest one (not tonkotsu though.) Haven't had anything else there.
While you are in the neighborhood, another good place is Dojima-An--their katsudon is very, very good and I see a lot of men getting the katsu curry. The place is usually packed. Melanie, your rec's have always been spot on and your ramen list looks darned good to me...everybody's got their own tastes, ne? that's what it is all about!
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. :-)
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.
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.