Yakyudori Rev. 2.0 - Nabesan does it again!
I just came back from a last minute visit to Yakyudori Ramen after hearing about their soft opening in another thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/684012 Since that thread was anticipating their opening, I thought it most appropriate to start a new one now that they are open.
Though there were quite a few cars in the lot, there were only two customers in the shop when I arrived. I figured most of the cars were for the *$'s shop next door. I didn't realize it at the time, but I would find out a half-hour later that I came in just before they were to close the doors to new customers. (During the soft opening they close at 9 pm.)
As I walked in it was nice to have been recognized by both the waitstaff and the sole customer at the bar, both of whom remembered me from my frequent visits to Yakitori Yakyudori. (Hurrah for our first Ramen-ya with a counter!) The counter is very generously sized, certainly deeper than many in Japan, and extensive enough to handle perhaps 15 or more customers. Table seating was also plentiful, though only one table was being used at the time.
Having already read the menu on the front door, I knew what I was having - the Shio Ramen (salt flavored Ramen). This is, afterall, my favorite Ramen, followed by Shoyu Ramen (soy sauce flavor), neither of which is represented well in San Diego. Though I also enjoy a good Tonkotsu (pork bone flavor), I find it too rich and over-the-top to enjoy exclusively and have been dying to find a good Shio or Shoyu bowl in San Diego to provide an alternative to Santouka. A single bowl of Tonkotsu to every 9 bowls of Shio or Shoyu Aji is about the right balance for me.
Lucky for me Nabe-san's new shop concentrates on these two most basic flavors, in addition to Miso Aji. (There were 3 other variations which I did not pay attention to...)
So I ordered the Shio Ramen just as is. The Shio Ramen already comes garnished with two slices of Chashu (Chinese style pork), finely shredded rings of Tokyo Negi (Japanese green onions), Menma (or Shinachiku, marinated Chinese-style bamboo shoots), the all-important Hanjyuku Tama (half-boiled marinated egg), and corn.
The bowl was beautiful. Whereas a food-pornish image of a Tonkotsu Ramen will feature a nearly opaque and milky soup hiding its oils that cannot all be held in emulsion within its saturated broth, in a Shio Ramen it's all about the clarity and color, dotted with tiny pearls of oil clearly delineated from the rest of the broth. Here we can expect by looks alone that we will taste a soup in all its nakedness, one which will for better or worse clearly showcase the skills of the chef in making his Dashi (stock). There is no hiding with a Shio broth.
And the broth was wonderful. With a good Shiomen I'm always left speechless, unable to describe it in terms of any of its constituent flavors as all of its parts disappears into a single gestalt experience. Sure enough when I have a Shio or Shoyu Ramen that does not agree I can quickly point out why, but for me with these classic Ramen broths they are at their best when one can no longer make out any particular component.
And that is why I enjoy these broths so much, and why I believe it is the Shio broth above all, to be followed by the Shoyu broth, that makes them so difficult to master. That is, the closer you get to perfecting these broths, the more and more difficult it becomes to know what to do to make them better. (Very much like trying to navigate to the North Pole. The closer you get to it, the less you know in which direction you need to go...)
So check off the most important part, their broth. It really is true what they say in Tampopo - it's the soup that animates the noodles. The noodles, too, were wonderful and flavorful, with just enough soft starches on the surface to hold fast onto the broth. It is a smoother type of noodle than used at Santouka, which befits their more refined broths. And they have good flavor. Another thing I look for in a noodle is its "guts", or strength, and these have good strength but not quite as good as Santouka's. Still not shabby in strength either, and an overall score of the noodles would be very high in my book.
The pork was nicely cut and generous in size and cut to the correct thickness, Too thick and the Chashu will start to be unbalanced, too thin and it becomes too "wimpy" and insignificant. It was elegantly flavored with the right amount of fat to keep it moist, and again more befitting the more elegant styled broth vs. Santouka's more assertive Chashu.
And yet again the Menma befit the broth, where the more assertive, almost barn-yardy notes of some Menmas would be out of place. However perhaps in this department the Menma could be a tad more assertive and still complement the broth well. Afterall even in this quiet symphony of tastes there comes a point at which some notes become too quiet to almost not be noticed.
So I was pleased with almost all of the components and was left with one big question - I have not yet tasted the Hanjyuku Tama. Well it was more than adequate given the rest of the bowl. The yolk had just the right texture and provided a subtle salty burst of flavor as it was liberated from it's albumen casing. One thing did surprise me though as I bit into the Tamago is that I appeared to catch some unexpected sweetness coming out of the yolk. Not sure if this was accurate or not, so I await a second tasting. I actually considered ordering another portion of Tamago just to make sure, but I didn't have enough broth left to balance it out.
I'd say the only nit I came home with is that I can do without the corn. Growing up I never had corn in my Ramen, though it is a popular add-on topping in Japan. In a bowl which otherwise is all about Umami flavors, corn's concentrated and simple sweetness simply does not belong. But that's just my personal preference, and I suspect that I can order my next bowl sans corn.
I talked at length to Haru-san, who is the Ramen chef at Yakyudori. He comes here from Tokyo by way of Orange County, where we had worked for several years in charge of the Ramen at Santouka's Costa Mesa branch. To have perhaps the man responsible for Santouka's most consistently run So Cal branch here in San Diego is a plus indeed.
In fact he first became familiar with San Diego when he had helped with the opening of Santouka's San Diego shop, and it was during this time that he became familiar with Yakitori Yakyudori. Wanting a change of pace from Santouka's Tonkotsu style, he was looking for a change when Nabe-san just happened to approach him with the idea of opening up a new Ramen-ya.
So thus began a true collaboration, with Haru-san in charge of the Ramen, and Nabe-san in charge of the Yakitori. We're talking about an all-star team here, though Nabe-san's Yakitori station is yet to be installed, awaiting the arrival of a liquor license.
It was good to hear from Haru-san that the development of the Ramen is completely up to them. They know they're off to a good start, but they know they could do better depending, as usual, on the all-important customer. What would their taste preferences be? How traditional could they stay? Can they chase even more exotic preparation techniques for their broth and still keep a following and a relatively low price point?
It'll be a while before we will find out, but at least in these very early days I think I can confidently say that they are off to a great start!
Very nicely written review.
I just realized that I almost always get tonkotsu type ramen.
I was also at Yakitori Ramen tonight and also went with the shio ramen and...I found the broth to be a bit bland.
Is that on purpose? It seems like a very light chicken broth with just a hint of dashi. I found myself wanting more shio in the shio ramen and added shoyu, pepper, and some of the hot sesame oil, but like I said I think this is the first time I've had a shio ramen that wasn't mixed with some pork broth. I don't want to imply a poor preparation if it is just my misunderstanding of the flavor profile.
I did like the chasu, thought the half egg was great and just at the proper level of doneness. I also thought the noodles were very good. I agree that the corn was not necessary and personally I'm a big fan of naruto so was a bit disappointed not to find it in the bowl. Menma is not my favorite topping but I found it to be fine.
Shio ramen may be too subtle for me. Perhaps you can explain the proper way to spice up the bowl?
I found the service to be very good and everyone was super friendly. The owner/manager actually stopped by each table and asked how things were, a nice touch.
I can't wait for the yakitori to start, as I'm a huge fan of the Hillcrest location and hope they can bring the same punch to this place. I'm curious about why they can't do yakitori without a liquor license. I rarely drink alcohol anymore and find tea or water go great with hatsu et al.
I wouldn't call the broth bland at all. It was very well constructed. I also doubt that your portion was made any differently than any other, as the stock will have been started perhaps as early as the day before or sometime early that same day during prep.
However depending on the practices of the shop the complete broth is typically constructed to order per portion directly in the serving bowl itself, typically starting with the most concentrated flavorings and concluded with the main broth. However it would be very unlikely that any appreciable variation would be found in this step. Ramen chefs take great pride in their methods, and each bowl should represent precisely the flavor profile that he has crafted.
However if all you've ever had is a Tonkotsu Ramen, that is most likely the reason for your reaction. The Shio and Shoyu are the classic Ramen broths, and to truly understand Ramen one needs to start there. Tonkotsu is a regional Ramen that through time has spread to other parts of Japan. Santouka, in fact, is from one of these regions that's outside of Tonkotsu's traditional home in Japan, and perhaps may help explain their somewhat contorted names for their flavors.
Oh, come to think of it, that must be it! Could it be that the only other bowl you've had is Santouka's so-called Shio Ramen? If so that could explain it, as all of Santouka's broths are bulit-upon a Tonkiotsu base. Shio, as used in Santouka's bit contorted context, should be interpreted as meaning something like "plain vanilla". By no means is their so-called Shio Ramen an actual Shio Ramen. It is their basic, or "plain vanilla", Tonkotsu Ramen, an entirely different animal than a Shio Ramen.
On garnishing your bowl: if you wish, for a Shio Ramen you can add some Sansho (ground Szechuan pepper) for aroma, or Rayu (red pepper infused sesame oil) for heat and flavor, but I found the broth so delicious that I didn't add anything to my bowl. You really want to avoid overseasoning a Shio broth, as it is particularly easy to upset its carefully crafted balance.
On the Yakitori/liquor license: eating Yakitori is synonymous with drinking beer, so to a Japanese one is unthinkable without the other.
On how good the Yakitori is likely to be: I'm expecting the best that YY has to offer. My understanding is that Nabe-san is planning on being full-time at the new Convoy shop.
I had similar thoughts to thirtyeyes after trying the shoyu ramen, so I'm willing to go again and try the shio ramen. Personally, I'm just not a big fan of the shoyu flavor, so I'm hoping the shio might let other flavors in the broth shine through better.
I also thought the egg was fantastic. If they had a pack of 4 for take-out, I would order it in a heartbeat.
wow, great review. While I was professed Santouka addict upon discovering it, I have come to find that its heavy, potent porkiness is overwhelming to me now. Hopefully, I will find a replacement in this subtler version.
Well having now gone 3 days in a row, here are my "micro-reviews" on each bowl that I've had so far.
* Saturday Jan 30: Shio Ramen - broth was off the charts good, with a beautiful Usukuchi flavor but still packed with explosive Umami, though I wouldn't mind if the Menma were to be a touch more assertive and could do without the corn
* Sunday Jan 31: Shio Ramen sans corn - delicious though not as refined as Saturday's more Usukuchi broth; perhaps a good bet for Koikuchi fans; everything else was delicious as before, and the Menma this time seemed to be just right
* Monday Feb 1: Shoyu Ramen - wow, another beautiful broth, off the charts good; elegant, refined, dignified; has as much Umami as Saturday's Shio broth; thought they could serve their broth much hotter, though that could be to adapt to local preferences... http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Both Saturday's Shio broth and Monday's Shoyu broth were off-the-charts incredible. Both had the quality where I can no longer say how it could be made any better. For the time being for my next 3 visits I'll have one more Shio and two more Shoyu, to net a total of three each, before I try any of the other flavors. That should allow me to assess their consistency and their target style.
So far I'm really liking this place!