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Hokkaido Fair at San Jose Mitsuwa - Santoka Ramen and some food review

Thanks E_Eto for the original heads up

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/556869

The Mitsuwa San Jose Hokkaido Fair is seemingly much smaller than the ones at Costa Mesa and Torrance. San Jose only has one ramen offering by Santoka.

Santoka Ramen temporarily takes up shop in Mitsuwa's Daikichi Sushi booth (that has a full blown kitchen in the back), where they sell sushi and bento boxes to go, adjacent to Miyabe Tei. For $7.99 + tax (cash only), you get a ticket to redeem one bowl of freshly piping hot ramen. You may want to get there early or after lunch/dinner rush hours as seating will likely fill up quickly.

Brief ramen review: SANTOKA RAMEN (Kanji is Fire Head Mountain, like a volcano

)

Noodles - good yellow and not too thin slightly curly al dente slurpy noodles that were a bit on the hard side. Net reports say the noodles are imported from Japan.

Toppings

- one thin but large piece of cha shu, followed by two small blocks. Tender and moist, with a nice layer of light tasting almost guilt free fat.
- Not sure why they put the fishcake in there, but it was not needed.
- Several long slices of menma (bamboo shoot) that was decent but I've had better.
- Several strips of nicely cooked kikurage (woodear funghi or mushroom)
- freshly cut up negi (scallions) that elevated the experience
- the grape sized looking chesnut was UMEBOSHI! WOOOOOOOOOOOF it kicked my butt. Tasty but interesting addition to the ramen.

Broth - oily/fatty but flavorful, thick, and well textured. Definitely a highlight.

Easily better than a majority of ramen noodle shops in SF Bay Area (maybe except for the top 3 to 4 depending on your preference and perspective).

My biggest gripe? They used disposeable bowls. Creeps me out that the uber hot broth and ramen contents will cause chemical reactions to break down the material of the bowl. It is like drinking hot coffee from a styrofoam vs ceramic cup. C'mon Santoka, please use CERAMIC bowls and REAL wooden spoons otherwise it's high end food court ramen.

When inquired with the cashier, she was unable to tell me whether Santoka plans to open in the SF Bay Area, but they have a location in Chicago, and New Jersey as well as Southern Cal. Either way, if you are sick of the SF Bay Area ramen scene, head to Mitsuwa SJ this weekend to see why Southern Cal has it good.

Other than that, there was a Hokkaido Seafood booth that sold mini bento boxes of crab meat, crab legs, ikura, and uni over sushi rice.

Kanikosen Bento (crab and ikura) - $15.90 + tax
King crab gokai bento box (leg meat and ikura) - $19.90 + tax
Sanshoku Bento box (all three minus crab leg) - $17.90

Skip the uni, it tasted meaty and dry. Uni is supposed to be smooth and silky. Although there were chefs trying to what looked like defrost the seafood..... However the Hokkaido ikura was insanely good, where you can taste the natural flavor. Not sure what they used to lightly season, but couldn't taste much salt or soy sauce. If you love pristine salmon eggs, you must try this. (Recommended for Sushi Monster, head down here and get you and SM x the king crab leg and ikura bento.)

Next to the seafood bento booth were two booths of deep fried stuff (croquettes).

In the back of the right corner of the supermarket is the rest of the fair, ranging from fresh seafood/whole fish from Hokkaido, refrigerated desserts/cream puffs/caramel candy from the city of Otaru, a booth that sells assorted snackeries from shiokara to marinated fish. The only fresh dessert snack made on the premise is Ishikari Ohaga, a ball of flavored rice (could be sticky rice, but uber small grains), wrapped with dark delicious looking red bean paste all over (hence the shape of a stone, or ishi).

Also spotted:

Fish booth:
Big whole piece of kinmedai (alfosino)
Karei (flounder)
Surume squid
Pike Mackeral

Marinated seafood booth:
Ika Shiokara
Koika Tobiran
Karashi Mentaiko
Asari Jyan
Ikasashi Wasabi
Ika Jyan Kara
Ikasashi Matsumaezuke
Hotate Wasabi
Miso Ika Shiokara
Kazunoko Matumaezuke
Amakuchi Tarako
Hokkai Tako Wasabi
($13.99 to $49.99 /lb)

Yubari Melon Jelly - $7.99
Hokkaido Eco friendly red beans
Hidaka Seaweed (Konbu) - $10.99
Hokkaido Vinegar (3 kinds)

Seafood bento booth:
Ika Meshi Bento Box - $5.90 (two pieces of grilled squid over rice)

Get there now, it ends Sunday.

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  1. K K Good Review. At Ramen Fairs only once have they been served in Ceramic bowls. I'm from LA but am in Nor Cal quite often. Yes Go and check out Santouka Ramen It's among the Best here in LA. The karashi mentaiko is SOOOOO Good! I bought a pound and 3/4. $49.99 a pound but consider how much it would cost to go to Hokkaido..... Here hokkaido comes to you. =)
    PS if you check the Los Angeles post on this subject.....Rameniac Himself has told of Santouka opening somewhere in the Bay Area! YAY!

    1. I've had Santouka's ramen in Torrance and agree it's very good. Was it the Shio-Tonkotsu broth they're offering?

      5 Replies
      1. re: DezzerSF

        I just read Exilekiss's thread on a similar subject on the LA board, and Rameniac mentioned Santoka opening in the SF Bay Area was "in the works" but that could mean or be interpreted as anything progress wise, so I hope he could elaborate some more without damaging his sources ;-).

        If I were to go out on a limb I would venture a guess that it was shio tonkotsu as the broth was indeed thicker and richer in taste/texture than a regular shio broth (like Kahoo around the corner) and had the taste of bones.

        I'd say this food court Santoka ramen was a slight tad better than my Daikokuya experience.

        In any case the Santoka booth is only offering one kind of ramen/broth. ie you can't supersize or animal style up some wacky combo. One price one bowl.

        1. re: K K

          you know i'll double check... i should make sure i didn't misunderstand my friend anyway as it just hit me that he might have been speaking of santouka appearing as part of this hokkaido fest. although they did do a festival appearance in san diego shortly before they opened up a permanent shop there. so it could be like, testing the waters so to speak.

          so you'd say there are 3 or 4 bay area ramen shops you'd still prefer over santouka? ;)

          i do like maru ichi, and kahoo seems to have slipped a TINY bit. i almost didn't recognize sou nakano with that bright yellow mohawk. not quite as huge a fan of santa as you bay area locals, but it's good. am i missing any other spots? point me in the right direction and i'll be sure to check it out on my next trip up north.

          i do have a ringer hut writeup on deck lol...

          1. re: rameniac

            You've hit up the best ramen places in SF Bay Area already, unless you want to go back to Ramen Halu again to give them another chance :-)

            Ringer Hut and Izakaya Mai in San Mateo are known for Nagasaki style(?) champon ramen, but only if you are into that version.

            I used to love Santa but ever since the move to the new location there has been more inconsistency and the broth isn't the same anymore (plus additional toppings can get you into the teen$ where you can easily get something similar for cheaper). I definitely favor Kahoo and Maruichi over Santa, but naysayers will disagree with me.

            Just avoid Maruichi in Milpitas (South Bay) and stick with the main store in Mountain View (although even they have thei off days, hard to know when's a good time to go). Maruichi still gets props for making noodles in house (they import the flour from Japan) and they did do a fairly decent hiyashi chuka soba where the cold noodles in that salad were perfect al dente (offered only during summer). I haven't been back to Kahoo in almost a year(?) time to recalibrate.

            I'm a bit hesistant to recommend Himawari in San Mateo (a few doors up from Izakaya Mai), although they are probably the only game in town to offer some other cooked dishes remotely similar to the stir fried Tokushima Chinese style dishes that Do Henkotsu (Tokushima Ramen) used to serve, and one of their best ramen bowls, asari (clams) shio, is a hit and miss, but it was ok last time.

            There's another place that I'm told is under the radar, forgot the name sadly and is close to Chinatown, but everything about it seems wrong from what I've read and the menu (looks like a Japanese restaurant for tourists that serves all sorts) and on top of that Chinese run. However it is said the chef trained with an old school ramen chef in Japan. Standard broth types (shio, miso, shoyu). If I remember it I'll pass the info along.

            1. re: K K

              Thanks KK guess I'll explore more Next trip up.

        2. Ken, i was there thursday afternoon to try the ramen and take a look around. Gotta run off to another dinner now, but want to say to all 'hounds: Go, get the ramen! I'd put it above Santa but just a hair below the best I've had from Ramen Halu. Quite a remarkable performance for cooking on the road. I hope that Santouka is encouraged to open a branch here. Also, I tried two kinds of croquettes: fish cake and piri ika, and $9.50 later, wouldn't recommend either one.

          Here are my two photos:

          Santouka ticket
          http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3012/2...

          Shio ramen bowl
          http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

          P.S. My brother went friday night and they were already sold out of the day's ramen at 7pm.

          -----
          Mitsuwa
          675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA

          7 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Thanks for your report, Melanie. I'm hoping to stop by on Sun. What was the wait like?

            Thanks for the warning on the croquettes. What is piri ika? Did they have crab croquettes?

            1. re: Carb Lover

              We've got a Santouka here in San Diego and it's by far the best ramen in town. It's even better than some ramen I've had in Japan. I totally agree with KK and the disposable bowl. Ours uses ceramic and it makes all the difference. Definitely worth lobbying for.

              1. re: Carb Lover

                Piri ika is spicy giant squid. Hanging over the booth were signs in Japanese listing the various types of croquettes and prices, many kinds including crab, iirc. But when I was there, the selection was fairly limited. I imagine there would be more selection on the weekend.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Thanks, Melanie. By the time we arrived on Sun. around 12:30pm, there was no frying station or croquettes to speak of. There was just the booth w/ the bento boxes and the one booth in the back right corner w/ roe and other seafood snacks w/ which I'm not familiar.

                  We met my bro there and after a few min. we were able to claim a table and order. The line was very manageable with only about 3 people in front of us. Y and I shared a bowl of shio ramen, and wanting some variety, we splurged on the $15.90 bento box w/ crab rolls and battera-style sushi. Sharing a bowl of ramen is like sharing a bowl of pho; it's not optimal, but while I enjoy the flavor of ramen, I find that the shio broth is very rich and didn't want to feel too weighed down as we were heading up to SF for the day.

                  Our number was called in about 5 min. As KK warned, the bowls and spoons were lightweight disposables. I agree that real bowls (like the ones used by the adjacent Mitsuwa cafeteria) would have been better. I cringed at the thought of all that waste...

                  The shio ramen looked similar to yours. My photo below makes the broth look more yellow than it was in real life. Overall, the taste was good but didn't blow me away. The broth was piping hot, complex and rich w/ pork intensity and seafood back notes. We all commented that it was on the sweet side. The cha shu was so soft and velvety and delicious. I also liked the addition of bamboo strips and umeboshi. All in all, it was a good bowl of ramen but I kept on longing for Ramen Halu's version. I like their broth and noodles much better, but I'll have to refresh my memory since it's been a couple of years.

                  The sushi bento box was decent but actually a waste of money. The rice was pretty sweet and vinegary, and the crab was unremarkable. Defnitely pass on this next time.

                  As we were finishing up, I noticed that several diners had a plate of the hiyashi chuka (cold noodles w/ julienned toppings) from the cafeteria. It looked really good and perfect on a warm summer day. Has anyone tried this there or any other offerings? What about their ramen or curry?

                  Around the corner, Kahoo had a line w/ about 15 people patiently waiting for their ramen fix. Any recent updates?

                   
                   
                   
              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Santouka Shio Ramen @ Mitsuwa Hokkaido Festival, San Jose

                To add some details to my quick post above, I’ll say that I was very excited when I saw E Eto’s head’s up to have the chance to try Santouka’s ramen closer to home. I’d been to the Hokkaido festival a couple years ago when the packaged ramen prepared at one of the booths beat out the fresh offerings from many of our locals, in my estimation, and this promised to be much, much better.

                Unlike the earlier time, Santouka was set up in a real kitchen and used the permanent food court’s tables and chairs instead of rickety folding equipment in the aisles. There was no line at 4:30pm and lots of seating available on Thursday. You pre-pay at the cashier (cash only), get a numbered ticket, and then the ramen bowl is brought out to your table.

                Santouka ticket
                http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3012/2...

                When my bowl appeared, I was struck by how carefully the toppings had been arranged. Even in this flimsy plastic bowl, the presentation was near identical to the precision of the stylized picture on the promotional posters, if a bit submerged.

                Mine had three short and wide strips of the velvety pork belly cha shu. The silken fat and deep, direct porcine flavor were just wonderful. The bamboo was cut into narrow strips that made it easier to pick up with a chopstickful of the noodles. Not a fan of fermented bamboo, these had a salty character instead and crisp, juicy bite to them that I liked. The finely cut wood ear fungi had been seasoned so that they contributed some flavor and not just texture. Very fresh scallions, and yes, that little pickled plum was a great counterpoint for the richness of the stock and a new addition to ramen for me.

                The slightly curly noodles had a much deeper yellow tone to their color than I’ve seen around here. While on the hard side, there was an odd gumminess that detracted from the texture and kept this bowl from scoring higher. The coarse surface of the noodles was also different for me. The noodles did soak up lots of flavor from the stock.

                Yet, the star of this bowl is the shio stock. Richer than other mostly chicken and clear yellow shio stocks, Santouka’s was cloudy and had the taste of long-simmered pork bones as well as the sweet and briny tones of dried shellfish. Very intense in flavor, but not heavy, and enhanced by a film of seasoned oil floating on the surface and the sprinkle of tare and toasty sesame seeds. The magic of the stock was how harmonious it is with no single flavor component rising above the rest.

                Shio ramen bowl
                http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

                Santouka takes the Number 2 slot on the ramen ranking. Considering that the staff is cooking away from home, that’s a remarkable performance.

                PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
                1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
                2. Santouka @ Mitsuwa Hokkaido Festival, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
                3. Santa, 805 S B St, San Mateo (pre-move)
                4. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
                5. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
                6. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
                7. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
                8. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
                9. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
                10.BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
                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.Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
                18.Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
                19.Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
                20.Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
                21.Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
                22.Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
                23.Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
                24.Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
                25.Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
                26.Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
                27.Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
                28.Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
                29.Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
                30.Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
                31.Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
                32.Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
                33.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
                34.King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
                35.Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
                36.Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
                37.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
                38.Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
                39.100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
                40.Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
                41.H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
                42.Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
                43.Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
                44.Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
                45.Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
                46.Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
                47.La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
                48.Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
                49.Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
                50.Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
                51.Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
                52.Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
                53.Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
                54.Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
                55.Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
                56.Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
                57.Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
                58.Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I'm also impressed with their showing considering its a temporary kitchen. There seems to be a reason that a lot of folks swear by Santa here and Santouka in L.A. Their broth is very similar in style and even flavor. I would give Santouka's broth an edge because of its more complex flavor. To me, Santa's is too straight forward - not in a bad sense, but in the sense that someone skilled enough can reproduce it easily at home.

                  Santouka's broth adds some more complexity and the noodles are also much better. Unfortunately, I had a couple of pieces of the pork belly meat that were not tender and even undercooked. But it probably won't happen as often as their home stores.

                  That said, for me, Halu's broth and noodle combination still reigns supreme. The rich flavor along with the deep ocean complexity is just unbeatable.

                  http://eat.tanspace.com/2008/09/21/sa...

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Wow Melanie I'll have to work on that list when I'm back in Nor Cal next month. Glad to see The positive response to Santouka in Nor Cal. If & When it opens Wait till you try the Special bowl of ramen. It's shio ramen with around 6 or 7 slices of Chasu on a plate that you put in to the ramen. Well Happy Slurping!

                2. Made it over today at around 2:00 pm. The ramenistas were out in force. There were only three people in line when I got there, but after I sat down, the line grew. It didn't take too long to get my bowl, though.

                  And what a bowl! Good, chewy noodles (luckily, no guminess problem for me), but I agree the broth is the star. Nice depth of flavor, and I really liked the nuttiness and texture added by the the goma. Good toppings (2 slices of cha siu in my bowl), and the umeboshi was a nicely crunchy contrast (my favorite bowl of ramen in Tokyo is topped with raw cabbage, so this was right up my alley).

                  A lot of the other Hokkaido stuff had sold out. No croquettes. I was tempted to buy the bento with uni but, since I already had dinner plans and the uni to wasn't rated too highly, I passed it by. There was milk pudding and salt caramel I would liked to have tried, but they were sold out.

                  It looks like many of the Santouku branches are part of Mitsuwa complexes. The SJ store has never put anything in the space where Kinokuniya used to be. It would be nice if they put a permanent branch there. (Actually, it would be nicer if they put one a little further north, but I'll take what I can get!)

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: Debbie M

                    Why there can't be a Santouka in the Mitsuwa store in SJ is beyond me. I've had their ramen at both the Costa Mesa and Torrance food courts and, as another poster said, it is as good as what you get in Japan. The Mitsuwa in SJ is also much more run down than those down south. SoCal has us so beat in this category. It's a travesty that all we get is a traveling show! Santouka should think about opening a branch in the Westfield Shopping Center in San Francisco; they'd make a ton of money.

                    1. re: Wendy_san

                      There's obviously a space issue. Mitsuwa used to be Yaohan in 1989/1990, I still remember going there back in the day. Then Yaohan went bankrupt and closed globally.

                      Mitsuwa could get rid of Daikichi Sushi & Bento to go (or better yet Miyabe Tei, or both) and put Santouka in there.

                      1. re: K K

                        I too remember Yaohan back in the day -- not too much different between it and Mitsuwa. Yes, they should get rid of all of their food offerings and put in Santouka and some of the other places that you find in their food courts down south. These are so inferior in comparison -- an insult to those who appreciate good Japanese food in Northern California. :-)

                        1. re: K K

                          I seemed to remember Yaohan had better prepared food. There used to be an okazu section and a dedicated bakery when they first opened (to the right as you entered the store, where the part of the produce section and the tofu & natto section are now. I think that changed before Mitsuwa took over, I assume to rent out that space to subtenants or such. But, even without knocking out any of the existing businesses, there's still the old Kinokuniya space that's been empty since they moved over to the free-standing building.

                          I was wondering -- Daikichi is still in busness isn't it? Did they just close down for those two days?

                          1. re: Debbie M.

                            I overheard the lady manning the cash register tell one customer that the sushi would be back on monday.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Thanks. I figured as much, but thought it strange they would close down their business like that for two days.

                              1. re: Debbie M

                                For four days. I think their employees were working in the kitchen and out front, since some had logo t-shirts on and the chopstick wrapper said Daikichi. Maybe they got a cut.

                          2. re: K K

                            Sadly Now Maybe even Mitsuwa maybe going. Already the Little Tokyo Downtown LA Building was purchased by a Korean Outfit. Now A friend of my Mother has informed us that a Korean Company has bought the Santa Monica/west LA store so she Lost her job because of this..We'll see what happens to the rest Torrance, Costa Mesa, & San gabriel. So Cal Mitsuwa maybe going going gone...... Hope this isn't true

                        2. re: Debbie M

                          I too was there on Sunday afternoon. Great ramen, no croquettes.

                          The only things left other than the ramen were the bento boxes w/crab, uni & salmon roe. They also had squid bento boxes. The thing I didn't like about the bento boxes was that sushi rice was used...and I found the vinegar to be too strong a match for the crab.