Bushido (Mountain View)
Since no less an authority than K K recommend it (on the Mountain View Maruichi vs Ryowa ramen thread, link below), I diverted a group lunch today to Bushido and ordered the KK-praised Shoyu ramen to compare with Maruichi's which I often get. Companions ordered Mabo (Ma Po tofu) ramen and yakisoba. We started with the _kimchee_ gyoza, and followed the noodle dishes with shared Okonomiyaki pancake (cousin of Korean Pajeon, but with shredded cabbage in the batter), then a lemon parfait (nominally a dinner dessert and not quite chilled yet, but it was delicious and refreshingly light).
Server said Bushido smokes its own meats. That was evident in my Shoyu ramen, the broth (indeed good, and real) lightly smoky from the (also pleasant) shaved smoked pork in my noodle soup, which was rather simply garnished. I liked it a lot. For comparison, Maruichi's shoyu ramen is a distinct style. Its clear broth conveys to me an impression less of soy sauce than of an extra-strong clear meat broth which I like (being in the habit of making a lot of meat broths at home to cook with -- including for noodle soups). No smoke in Maruichi's. At Bushido I thought the noodles were OK, fairly standard.
The more-or-less dry soba-noodle yakisoba bowl included lots of interesting-looking garnishes. Its eater it found it a little on the bland side and preferred Maruichi's soba soups. The Mabo-tofu ramen order I didn't taste, but smelled. I didn't smell, as I'd hoped to, the signature citrusy Sichuan peppercorns of Ma Po tofu. But that soup too included a lightly smoky broth -- thickened -- which may have masked them I didn't taste the dish, but the person who ate it (who does not cook Ma-po tofu at home, yet) was not familiar enough with the spice to say, but finished the bowl and said it was only moderately spicy.
Very striking were the delicious, fresh kimchee gyoza, I'd return just for those. After the noodle soups we shared the Okonomiyaki pancake, which was compact, maybe 5 inches diameter, contained vegetables in the batter, and was complexly garnished, including a pattern of sauce and long threads of bonito flake, poking up from the pancake and (eerily) moving and undulating from the heat, as if alive. We'd deferred to the server's suggestion of the simple mochi-cheese garnish. This was a complex and delicate dish, easy to share, would make a fine starter course or an appetizer with drinks. We all enjoyed it. The lemon parfait (again, nominally a dinner offering but we had a late lunch and were able to get one) sounded like my kind of dessert and was -- light and refreshing. Layers of light cake, lemon curd, and a little whipped cream, wrapped in a temporary plastic mold that untied and unrolled, leaving the parfait free-standing, or rather, slightly slumping, as it wasn't fully chilled. Bushido has a dedicated dessert chef; other desserts offered today sounded interesting -- neither the pro-forma local Japanese-restaurant mochi balls and green-tea ice cream, nor the common gringo-restaurant Dense Chocolate This and Heavy-Cake That.
One lunch is enough for only a first impression, but it was positive. The place looked fairly elegant, and like its precursor at the same location (the unsuccessful 3TA), has a full bar. We were told a 4:30-6PM Happy-Hour deal with a separate bar menu starts Thursday the 15th, I look forward to trying it.
In the MV ramen thread, Melanie mentioned already trying Bushido, I look forward to the details.
859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Maru Ichi Restaurant
368 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
156 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
Thanks for starting this thread. My brother treated me to dinner here on April 1. If asked to write a subtitle for your subject heading, I’d say:
“Decent Barbecue, Soggy Ramen”
We were intrigued by the mention of smoked meats and barbecue on the menu. I’d been in New Mexico tasting barbecue and was not at all interested in more, especially at a Japanese restaurant. But the waiter recommended the smoked chicken wings and we ended up with the wings and the baby backs. As William said, “Well, everyone says don’t order barbecue at a soul food restaurant. And, avoid sushi at an izakaya. But there’s no rule of thumb that says you shouldn’t get barbecue at an izakaya.” Good thing, as those were my favorite items.
Smoked chicken wings, $6.95 – Very smoky aroma and more refined smoke nuance on the palate, juicy and succulent flesh, minimally seasoned and served with no sauce to let the essential chicken-ness and expert hand at smoking shine through. William said the bigger ones were a little chewier and drier, but not actually tough. Likewise, the skin was a little chewy but still easy to bite through. I only had one wing and that piece might have been the best smoked chicken I’ve had in the last year (and I’ve tasted at least 30 examples in this interval).
Tsukune (chicken patties), $4.95 – William liked these more than I did. The flavor was good, maybe superior to Sumiya’s seasoning, but I didn’t like the rubbery texture. Also these didn’t have much grill influence.
Asparagus tempura, $6.45 – Nice job here, sweet and fat spears of juicy asparagus, and the little heavier style of batter managed to stay on and not flake off. The dipping sauce was rather pedestrian and not very complex even after stirring in the daikon and grated ginger.
BBQ baby backs, $11.95 – These were straight up smoked baby backs swabbed with a tomato-based barbecue sauce that was pure Americana. The ribs had good flavor from the rub and smoking, but I’d have to ding them a little on texture. While tender, they were a little overcooked and pulled off the bone too easily. Baby backs should be smoother and not so coarse in texture, maybe they were held too long and had dried out. The sauce was mild spicewise, not sugary, and had enough acidity to balance the richness of the meat.
Miso black cod with ginger sprout, $11.45 – Disappointed here as the fish was overcooked and the black grill marks were bitter.
Mabo ramen, $7.95 – Another disappointment as the noodles were the softest I can recall having anywhere. When our waiter checked back, he did offer to make it over for us. But since it was our last dish and near closing time, we decided not to wait. The water-logged noodles didn’t pick up any flavor from the mabo stock and had no flavor at all. We felt that the sauce was dilute as well with little character, not spicy, not meaty, not much of anything. I ate the tofu cubes and that was basically it for me. This bowl ranks #62.
Our service was generally good. We had one change of plates to whish away the bones. Our waiter did the right thing by giving us the option of redoing the ramen. However, I did notice the manager tell another table that the dish they complained about would be taken off their bill.
The experience was good enough but I’m not in a rush to return. I will give the ramen another shot eventually.
PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Santouka @ Mitsuwa Hokkaido Festival, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
3. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
4. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
5. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
6. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
7. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
8. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
9. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo (post-move)
10. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
11. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
12.Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
13.Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
14.Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
15.BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
16.Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
17.Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
18.Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
19.Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
20.Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
21.Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
22.Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
23.Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
24.Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
25.Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
26.Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
27.Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
28.Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
29.Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
30.Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
31.Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco
32.Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
33.Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
34.Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
35.Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
36.Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
37.Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
38.King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
39.Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
40.Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
41.Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
42.Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
43.Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
44.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
45.King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
46.Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
47.Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
48.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
49.Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
50.100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
51.Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
52.H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
53.Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
54.Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
55.Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
56.Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
57.Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
58.La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
59.Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
60.Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
61.Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
62.Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
63.Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
64.Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco
65.Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
66.Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
67.Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
68.Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
69.Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
70.Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
71.Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley
368 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94039
re: Melanie Wong
I actually asked the waitress when I went to Bushido for lunch about 2 weeks ago, which ramen bowl was heavily ordered by Japanese customers, and without batting an eye, she said "shoyu", even though I had my eye on the mapo ramen. But thanks for providing the mapo writeup, it does not look terribly interesting...in fact the mapo sauce looks more like hot and sour soup! Should you ever return, perhaps during lunchtime and just do a shoyu bowl and gyoza and get the noodles cooked hard (I too had the soft soggy noodle problem, it could also be the nature of the noodles where it goes mushy quite quickly when cooked). I enjoyed the chashu though, no wonder I couldn't put my finger on the flavor...it was smoked.
I enjoyed the place in a single visit enough to put on the return list.
I had no soba, just the okonomyaki with pork, and likely got some of that excellent smoked meat action. I thought the okonomyaki was a little on the heavy side, not *quite* cooked enough, but the osaka style is kind of like that.
Lacking a little in that "all you want" action, wanted more veggies and other additions, lacking slightly in the magic of okonomyaki that brings the flavors together. Good enough to bring a "will return" but not enough to return the next day.
I agree on the elegance. Nice little room.
I wonder why anyone in their right mind would order a chinese dish at a very japanese esablishment. That's on the "don't do it" list.
bbulkow said, "I wonder why anyone in their right mind would order a chinese dish at a very japanese esablishment. That's on the "don't do it" list."
As you'll recall, ramen is considered a "Chinese" dish in Japan, further refined and developed in that country since the '50s. Likewise, gyoza and kara-age, which is why they often share the menu with ramen. Mabo ramen is one of the standard Japanese topping styles for ramen. Better versions can be found at Himawari in San Mateo and Hana in San Jose. In fact, Hana is a restaurant devoted to Japanese-style Chinese food.
re: Melanie Wong
Yes, of course - the japanese/chinese sharing (food, linguistic, etc) is well known. I thought of mentioning gyoza - I would call that japanese food now, with chinese heritage (I know both china and japan are a bit sticky regarding this historical sharing) - and your other examples. They're not called gyoza in china.
The poster mentioned Ma Po Tofu, though. I didn't know Ma Po Tofu was in the category of dishes the japanese had brought over, renamed, and served in japan in japanese restaurants. I never saw that dish there, but I've only eaten in japan for a few weeks - I defer to your knowledge. Ma Po, if served in japan, is interesting in that the tones matter more than with other dishes, so I would have expected the japanese to rename the dish 'mapou tofu', 'mapu tofu', or similar - the linguistic pattern for japanese imports from english is fairly clear - the import of 'Lesbian' is a great example, because it shows two patterns of import and transliteration in one word.
Is Ma Po in the category of now-japanese dishes? If so, are there differences with the chinese version? What's the name?
responding to myself, one of the clearer chinese versions of ramen is, I think, crossing-the-bridge noodles in Kunming. I don't know how to say it in Chinese, and I don't know if there is really direct lineage, but I made a point of eating at two of the more famous places in Kunming to taste the heritage. I generally prefer the japanese style instead of the Kunming dish - Ramen has a deeper broth and more options. Crossing-the-bridge has a clearer broth which as a certain style - more like the matzo soup broth - which has its points.
Great food channel show idea - following one simple dish around the globe looking at the history and branches.
For reference, you may want to read E Eto's excellent writeup of a great Chinese restaurant in Hiroshima, Taiwanese owner, who does some very interesting Sichuanese that's not too touristy Japan Chinatownish.
Ramen did originate through Chinese immigrants settling in Japan and mutated to form its own identity over the years. The word "gyoza" actually stems from the Chinese (kanji) characters Jiao Zi, but these are actually "yaki gyoza" (fried) versus the boiled dumplings we're accustomed to.
Sichuanese food is definitely very popular in Chinese restaurants across Japan, hence everyone will know "chili prawns" (also thanks to Iron Chef Chen Kenichi's dad), mabo tofu, tantanmen (aka dan dan noodles) to name a few. In other parts like Kobe Chinatown (Nanking machi), there's a place that very famous for Northern style baozi (which the locals call butaman, basically meat buns, or meat man is the loose translation).
In addition to Mabo ramen, tantanmen is also available at the ramen places that Melanie mentioned, although TTM at Hana is brothless....a brothy version can be found at Kahoo, likely Ramen Halu, and Himawari. In fact, Ryowa's "Ryowa" ramen (sesame broth) might just be a very distant cousin of TTM (although to be honest it sucks these days).
375 Saratoga Ave, San Jose, CA 95129
202 2nd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401
859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
re: K K
To piggyback your comments and because i love the subject, ramen's introduction to Japan very likely came from the many Chinese who served as cooks in the foreigner enclaves of Japan- especially Yokohama. They didn't hold a particularly respected position in Japanese society and this was reflected in the fact that ramen was more commonly called "shina soba" which is a slightly derogatory way of saying Chinese soba. After WWII, many Japanese soldiers who served in Manchuria and were exposed to Chinese noodle dishes, returned home to open up their own shops. "Shina soba" was dropped in favor of "chuka soba" and the transliterated Chinese "ramen". In the lean food and nutrition times after the war, ramen become popular because it was cheap and nutritionally hearty. The thick broths like tonkotsu and the mixing of different animal and fish proteins, along with seaweed, reveal the kind of creative economy that Japanese cuisine is more broadly known for, which on the surface sounds kind of elegant. But underneath, I think more likely reveals the actual economic necessity to extract nutrients, fat, and flavor from spare animal parts.
Oh, btw, butaman (usually generalized as "nikuman") can be found not just in Kobe Chinatown, but in little heated displays next to every cash register in every convenience store in Japan....'Course, the ones in the Chinatowns are usually better.
On mabo in Japan, except at the more authentic Chinese places, tends to lean more toward savory than spicy. And is characterized by containing a LOT less oil than Sichuan preparations.
Sorry to digress from your local discussion...
Excellent historical summary, as always Silverjay!
I guess I confused butaman with nikuman, where the latter is available as frozen pork buns at most Nijiya supermarkets (along with a curry version).
You would think mabo tofu and tantanmen are simple hard to screw up dishes, but there doesn't seem to be a correct proper receipe set in stone, as there are so many variations from Sichuan styles in Japan, Hong Kong, West Coast (e.g. PF Changs versus the elbow grease joint versus the semi upscale place), Taiwan.
At the risk of this getting cut and spliced into General, I guess I'm sold on not wasting my $ on Bushido's Mabo (or should I say Suan La/Hot and Sour) ramen.
We dined at Bushido last night. Sadly, we left a tad underwhelmed. Melanie Wong's description of the smoked pork motivated us to try this spot. But alas - as it turned out, no ramen items were available. The earnest, but hapless, young waiter explained that the kitchen had purchased a new meat slicer but lacked the space for its proper use and placement. Until the chef solved his logistic/space problem, no smoked pork items listed on the menu would be available. Disappointing. Otherwise, the meal was passable, but not especially memorable. Upshot: with all the other excellent dining options on Castro Street, the jury is out as to whether we'll return to Bushido.
re: Melanie Wong
Melanie, you didn't mention yet trying the fresh and flavorful kimchee gyoza that we had at Bushido. They were memorable, and I'd guess Bushido's regular gyoza also are freshly made with tender wrapper dough and toasty bottoms. I hope to report very soon. (Unusually good fresh gyoza also have been a feature at Ryowa Ramen nearby, mentioned in the MV ramen-house thread linked above.)
Thanks for posting your updated, comprehensive personal Bay Area ramen-house list, by the way! I sometimes refer non-CH readers to it. I doubt that many people have as much local experience with that specialty.
859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041
FWIW, I'm told now that the report above about missing smoked pork was a mistake of some kind. I was at Bushido again and was offered smoked pork, and told the smoked pork has been steadily available (though maybe it runs out sometimes like other ingredients? -- just my guess). Asked about this report, mgr said she'd heard about it already, but that no server recalled saying anything that could be interpreted that way. She said there IS a new slicer, and the chef DOES have the placement problem reported above, but that this slicer is only for thinly sliced _beef_ offerings including sukiyaki, and only affects those. Evidently an ordinary miscommunication, anyway the smoked pork products remain available. (And the gyoza and the other specialties.) A "happy hour " offering with special bar menu has also started, 4:30-6 I think..
I had lunch at Bushido today with a friend, and I will definitely be going back, but not for the ramen. Don't get me wrong, my shoyu ramen was tasty enough, but the chashu was chewy and kind of tired-tasting. The noodles had about as much texture as the packaged kind - I forgot to ask for them to be cooked firm, despite the advice on this thread.
My friend, on the other hand, had the oyako-don, and it was fantastic. This was a bowl of rice piled with browned pieces of smoked chicken and scrambled egg. I just stole a piece of the chicken and it was succulent and smoky, plus the caramelization gave it the savor of American-style BBQ.
We also had and enjoyed the kimchi gyoza. Also, for dessert I tried honey cake with matcha (green tea) creme - I usually don't care for the soapy flavor of green tea desserts, but this cake was lovely and delicate. The in-house pastry chef is definitely a plus!