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Shalala, downtown Mountain View 's 3rd ramen house?

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I try to watch for restaurant developments in Mountain View's small-town downtown, which I frequent, with its compact concentration of over 90 restaurants within a few blocks (one of the densest such clusters in the state).

As if to answer the third Pho house nearby that opened 10 months ago (Pho Garden MV, 29 January 2010), this downtown may soon have a third Ramen house, adding to the venerable and competitive Maru Ichi (aka Maruichi) and Ryowa (both about two blocks away). Incidentally Ryowa added its own Hiyashi Chuka last summer to compete with Maruichi's very popular one. Ryowa's version of that cold noodle salad was quite different, on a plate rather than bowl and with two sauce choices, with distinctive noodles, and I enjoyed it a lot, maybe even more than Maruichi's. It's a summer-only special at both places, unavailable currently. Ryowa also has the local monopoly on spicy Tsukemen or "dipping noodles," my favorite noodle dish there.

Tina's Kusina, the Filipino grill operating for a few years at 698 W. Dana (corner of Hope), closed recently. A new restaurant, Shalala, is under rapid construction in this compact corner site and looks almost ready to open. A worker at the site said it's a Japanese restaurant and another, on a different occasion, said it's a ramen house. That's my tentative information so far, but you can believe I'll try it soon. (I visit one of the other two nearby at least weekly.)

Needless to say, once it's up and running and gets any kinks worked out, assuming my information is accurate and it's a third local dedicated ramen house (Bushido nearby also offers ramen among many other dishes), Melanie's assessment and ranking on the Big List will be awaited with interest. (I've now referred many non-CH readers to that handy reference on the totality of Bay Area Ramenia.)

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Ryowa
859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

Maru Ichi Restaurant
368 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

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  1. More: I stopped by the site today (hoping for some ramen, actually) and met the chef who said he came from Kahoo (one of the ramen houses in that famous cluster around Moorpark and Saratoga Ave. in SJ) and that he expects to open Shalala this week, pending final inspections.

    Had to be content with some Tsukemen at Ryowa, nearby, but it was very good as usual, so I did get my ramen "fix."

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    Kahoo Ramen
    4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose, CA 95129

    Ryowa
    859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

    4 Replies
    1. re: eatzalot

      Thanks for the heads up. The website says it's opening today at 11:30AM.

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      Shalala
      698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        ... and Shalala did open on time. This place bases its three current ramen offerings on a tonkotsu master broth conspicuously simmering behind the counter. The shoyu ramen was slightly milky, and when I (not exactly a connoisseur, I just enjoy the stuff) afterwards asked the chef, who's from Japan, he said that clear shoyu broths (as I get at Maruichi nearby) are more traditional, but that cloudy or "creamy" broths are the new thing among ramen houses in Japan, favored by young ramen customers there, so that's his style.

        I enjoyed it well enough, but given that I've been to Ryowa and Maru Ichi (nearby) each several dozen times a year for the past several years, I need time to form impressions for comparison (plus, the place just opened after all). Various locals and walk-in customers were there; a friend wanted to try the ramen but had a sodium restriction so settled for Tamago Gohan (poached-egg rice bowl, $3) which she pronounced very good. Three rice bowls, three appetizers, and three ramens are on the menu (of which I duly secured a copy for my local file). One or two minor kinks, on which I gave feedback, included the pork belly on the ramen (a good 3/16" thick) being cold inside (but, not to be repetitive, the place did just open).

        One little quirk, which I'll mention (meaning no levity or disrespect about something that greatly affected my family in my parents' generation, like most US families at the time, not to mention families in Japan), is the opening date of December 7, a reference instantly familiar to Americans. I touched on that in passing before I left, but chef Iwahashi, who's rather young by the way, was genuinely suprised -- I had to explain the anniversary of the date Imperial Japan attacked Hawaii and the Phillipines 69 years ago. He seemed a little embarassed, he was much less aware of the date. His own invasion of Mountain View's downtown restaurant cluster, however, is considerably more constructive and I hope it works out.

        PS: It was my turn to be surprised when the chef said he had never seen the great food movie Tampopo (1986, Japanese, and popular in the US on release), which is mainly about starting up a ramen house. (I *hope* no ramen fan reading this shares the misfortune of not knowing the movie.) From a particular scene in that outrageously funny film I estimate that he would not have served the pork slices cold inside, had he seen it.

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        Shalala
        698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

        1. re: eatzalot

          Thanks for your report. When i saw the date, Tora! Tora! Tora! or a Day that Shall Live in Infamy did cross my mind and I appreciate your sensitivity in acknowledging it. What's the price for the ramen?

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Salt or Shoyu ramen $7.50, $6.50 small. Miso ramen $8.50, $7.50 for small. Those are the noodle offerings at present (though I got the impression the menu's not cast in stone). Roughly similar to what I recall paying at the other two ramen houses nearby (which also have much more extensive noodle soup menus and are much better established -- one friend wryly quoted the famous quip "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded").

    2. Thanks for the updates on MV eatzalot. We have already tried Shalala twice. The noodles have a great bounce and the presentation is beautiful. The surroundings are elegant and spare. The broth is definitely richer (more fat) in comparison to Maru Ichi. Shalala is now offering three sizes of ramen S,M,L and we had the crispy, thin coated fried chicken appetizer served with a slice of lemon and a rice bowl with pork belly. Everything was delicious. I can see us alternating between Maru Ichi and Shalala depending on how much we've exercised that day.

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      Maru Ichi Restaurant
      368 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

      Shalala
      698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

      1 Reply
      1. re: Tumkers

        Thanks for the report. After more visits, my impressions closely resemble yours. Inquiry about the intense miso broth disclosed that they use a combination of miso-type flavorings which I've now forgotten.

        I noticed you compared Maru Ichi but not Ryowa (which by the way is not unusual). Many people are partisans of one or another of those nearby ramen houses (both fairly high on Melanie's Big List), often because of dishes they found that they like. After some years of exploring both (which takes a while -- both have much larger menus than Shalala, which slowly evolve and include cold specials in Summer) I've found that along with vice versa, Ryowa offers some exquisite year-round items that Maru Ichi doesn't. Ryowa's fresh gyoza, about the best in that neighborhood IMO, have been similar to Shalala's but larger and very flavorful with fresh toasty fried-noodle-dough bottoms. Tsukemen "dipping noodles," and that house condiment of chili paste and "Chinese chives" that I've long tried to recreate, are other Ryowa specialties. While Maru Ichi has its house ramens (signature flavoring is browned garlic -- more on the tables in dried form among the condiments), different people favor different ones, I like the Shoyu variant which seems to include, besides the shoyu, a more concentrated clear meat broth such as I make at home sometimes in regular stock production. But Maru Ichi also has noodle offerings further afield. The nabeyaki [sp?] udon is said to cure any cold or other everyday malaise; the tempura soba is extremely substantial and satisfying with its buckwheat noodles, delicate clear broth, herbs, and tempura prawns on top. Maru Ichi's gyoza though, albeit popular in lunch specials with diners there, have been far inferior to Ryowa's, reminding me more of frozen commercial gyoza from Trader Joe's. If you want sushi side dishes, Maru Ichi's sashimis on rice have been decent and fresh, but the (again popular at lunch) "California rolls" use that pink tuna paste (also available over rice) and remind me of cheap commercial ones.

        Warning: A Maru Ichi combo of tempura soba noodles with a sashimi bowl side dish, though delicious and satisfying, is so substantial it may be hazardous to your appetite for a day or so.

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        Ryowa
        859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

        Maru Ichi Restaurant
        368 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041

        Shalala
        698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

      2. Dropped in today for lunch, and I suppose it is the holiday week for most Silicon Valley high tech slaves, so it wasn't as crowded (that plus the unpredictable weather).

        I still remember walking by this location many time when it was Tina's. Now the interior of Shalala is spanking clean, although not too many tables. The kitchen is pretty much in plain view (with some shelf height obstructing some of it).

        The three different sizes of ramen threw me off a bit, but $7.50 for a regular sized bowl of their shio ramen was just right. Technically it is Ton-shio, a hybrid of shio tonkotsu. The base broth also contains chicken bones and a few other spices (at the very bottom of the bowl), and per the menu description, the base broth is cooked upwards of 15 hours. Did not take long for them to get the bowl ready.

        Ton-shio bowl came with pretty good al dente curly noodles, very similar to Maruichi's during their prime. Did not like the adding of iceberg lettuce, and cabbage would have been a much better option (especially if paired with miso ramen). The broth was actually quite light tasting, (could taste pork bones and chicken/chicken bones) just a tad bit salty and a teeny bit on the oily side (straining the oil would have helped prior to serving, but that's just a personal preference), but a fairly decent execution overall. Thick but soft chashu slices, resembled the "five flower" style pork belly, but not as many layers and not as much fat in general, although one slice had a ton of ....hopefully it wasn't all fat, but it was decent.

        Three Japanese customers next to me were ordering a side of mapo-don (mapo tofu mini rice bowl).

        I'd say Maruichi's pork bone broth is actually a hybrid of shoyu tonkotsu, which while is decent, gets less interesting over time. To make a hybrid ton-shio broth really shine, there would be the need to add fish to the broth, and perhaps katsuoboshi (of course more labor and cost intensive), in order to have it be similar to even a Japanese ramen chain in Taipei (e.g. Kagetsu Arashi).

        But bottom line, the bowl while decent for Mountain View, is probably considered slightly above average overall, but perhaps not quite there for those who prefer perhaps Orenchi or Santouka. The effort is applauded nonetheless, and I hope this place keeps iterating on their bowls to eventually come up with something even better quality. Didn't pay the $1 or so to add a soft boiled egg to the ramen.

        Read somewhere on Yelp that Ryowa offers an oxtail ramen. Dropped in for lunch last week, and the waitress said it was a dinner only offering :-o.

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        Shalala
        698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

         
        1. I started out pretty skeptical of this place; after all, I've seen tons of restaurants come and go in this particular location, and we already have a couple of ramen places on Castro Street, but I'm actually hoping that Shalala will become a permanent resident in downtown Mountain View, because the Spicy Miso Ramen and the Karaage I had for lunch today were great.

          The waitress gave me the specials in Japanese, which were some rice bowls, but I wanted to try the Ramen, and I ended up ordering the Spicy Miso Ramen with an order of Karaage.

          First off, I loved the broth of the Spicy Miso Ramen, which was spicy and flavorful and reminded me of the Szechwan Spicy Noodle Soup my Mom would make for us. The noodles were just the right firmness and thickness; served as al dente curly noodles (which I prefer) the toppings were great with bamboo, wood ear, seaweed and fishcake, but I forgot to order the soft boiled egg to go with the ramen.

          The karaage seems to be fried with rice flour instead of the normal egg+flour, because the result is a little crisper than most karaage, but the chicken within is moist and juicy. The karaage comes with a slice of lemon and some Japanese mayo.

          The beer is oddly presented; I ordered a small Sapporo in a bottle, and while they brought out the bottle, I was also given a Brandy glass to pour the beer into; I would have preferred a mug or a normal glass.

          They take credit cards too, which is different from most of the other "cash only" ramen establishments. The place is however, quite small -- maybe about 20 people can fit here at any one time, making it much smaller than Ryowa or Maruichi nearby.

          Shalala is now on my list of go-to places for ramen. My favorite used to Maruichi for their "Kuro Ramen" combos; but my more recent visits to Maruichi have found their broth to be so lacking in flavor, and their noodes so soft that I'd rather drive the extra way (and deal with the wait) for Orenchi rather than settle for Maruichi.

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          Ryowa
          859 Villa St, Mountain View, CA 94041

          Maruichi Restaurant
          530 Barber Ln, Milpitas, CA 95035

          Shalala
          698 W Dana St, Mountain View, CA 94041

          3 Replies
          1. re: mhuang

            "The karaage seems to be fried with rice flour instead of the normal egg+flour, because the result is a little crisper than most karaage,"

            Normally, karaage is coated with cornstarch in Japan, though maybe in the U.S. some people do use egg and flour. Serving Sapporo beer with a brandy glass, however, is a little weird. Japanese style would be small, squat glasses holding about 180 ml.

            1. re: Tripeler

              Actually, I should make a correction; it wasn't a brand glass per se, it was brandy like glass, since it didn't have the stem that a normal brandy glass has: it looked more like this one: http://www.crateandbarrel.com/dining-... (the one one the right)

              1. re: mhuang

                Hmmm, interesting, nonetheless.

          2. No one’s talked about Shalala for a while . . . any updates?

            Found some photos of my one dinner there, June 2011, contemporary with the posts in this thread. So for the record, here goes.

            To start, we shared an order of fried squid legs. Cooked in clean oil, relatively greaseless, this batch was a little too firm.
            http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

            William had his usual spicy miso ramen. He said it was not quite as deep and complex this time. The pork belly chashu was especially good.
            http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

            The thick, chewy noodles combined with the dense soup stock made this quite a heavy, albeit delicious, combination .
            http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

            For me, the cold ramen salad, that was not nearly as good as the soup noodles. The skinnier noodles were a tad too cooked and not drained well, making the salad water-logged and diluting the two sauces.
            http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

            And unlike the chashu in my brother’s ramen, my pork slices were too dry and dessicated. Some good flavors here, but the sloppy execution couldn’t quite pull it off.
            http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...

            http://www.ramenshalala.com/index.html

            PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
            1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
            2. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
            3. Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
            4. Santouka, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
            5. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View;
            6. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
            7. Gaku Japanese Charcoal Grill, 5152 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
            8. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
            9. Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
            10. Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St, San Mateo
            11. Shalala, 698 W Dana St, Mountain View
            12. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
            13. Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
            14. Alexander’s Steakhouse Lounge, 10330 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
            15. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo (post-move)
            16. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
            17. Ramen Tenma, 487 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
            18. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
            19. Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge, 508 4th St, San Francisco (closed)
            20. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
            21. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
            22. Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
            23. Ken Ken Ramen, pop-up at The Corner, San Francisco (closed, moved)
            24. Kyora Japanese Restaurant, 1217 Wildwood Ave, Sunnyvale (closed)
            25. BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
            26. Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
            27. Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
            28. Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
            29. Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
            30. Muracci’s, 244 State St, Los Altos
            31. Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
            32. Tadamasa, 34672 Alvarado Niles Road, Union City
            33. Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
            34. Ippuku, 2130 Center St, Berkeley
            35. Nombe, 2491 Mission St, San Francisco
            36. Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
            37. Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
            38. Ame Restaurant, 689 Mission St, San Francisco
            39. Yu-Raku, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
            40. Namu, 439 Balboa St, San Francisco (moved)
            41. Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
            42. Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
            43. Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
            44. Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
            45. Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
            46. Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
            47. Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco (closed)
            48. Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
            49. Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
            50. Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
            51. Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
            52. Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
            53. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
            54. King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
            55. Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
            56. Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
            57. Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
            58. Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo (closed)
            59. Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose (now Dan Izakaya)
            60. Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
            61. King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
            62. Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
            63. Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
            64. Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
            65. Dan Izakaya, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
            66. Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
            67. 100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
            68. Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
            69. H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
            70. Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
            71. Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
            72. Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
            73. Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
            74. Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
            75. La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
            76. Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
            77. Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
            78. Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
            79. Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
            80. Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
            81. Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco (closed)
            82. Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
            83. Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
            84. Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
            85. Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
            86. Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
            87. Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
            88. Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

            2 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Ate there just last month. I think of the three ramen houses in the downtown Mountain View area of Castro St, it's still the ramen house I prefer. They've expanded the menu a little, adding a Niku Moyashi Miso (Miso broth with marinated ground pork) and a spicy version (which has adjustable spice levels).

              They also offer kaedama (an extra portion of noodles) which is a service I don't commonly find in U.S. ramen shops, but is rather commonplace in Japan.

              We also had the gyoza, which tasted fresh.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                I've only been to Shalala maybe 10 times since its opening two-plus yrs ago, well below my count for most downtown MV restaurants (of which I'm a heavy user) and WAY below my experience with the more venerable nearby ramen houses (Maruichi, Ryowa). Also in recent years, other nearby restaurants have opened offering Japanese food from various angles, including ramen among their more general menus (Bushido Izakaya; Niji Sushi which last Summer replaced Yulong, whose owners retired).

                Shalala has dickered with its ramen styles, and some time ago introduced cold noodle salads more adventurous than its local rivals (But -- Melanie Alert! Maruichi's popular hiyashi-chuka noodle salad that you enjoyed went year-round this year, it's no longer just a Summer iterm.)

                Shalala has a younger-hipper look, and may appeal to a younger-hipper crowd. Many online comments about Shalala reveal very limited experience with the nearby older ramen houses, therefore limited real basis for comparisons (and indeed, menus at M. and R. are extensive enough, with enough goodies packed into their corners, that it does take many visits to know those restaurants' repertoires, strengths and weaknesses).

                Some people go on about Shalala and its competitors who've evidently never tried, for instance, Maruichi's comforting tempura soba or nabeyaki udon; then again they may not prefer those styles. While it doesn't particularly promote them, Maruichi excels at clear, comforting broths -- its shoyu ramen with strong clear broth is another example, that broth fluctuates somewhat but often reminds me of strong double meat stocks I make at home. Clear broths are a more traditional angle for Japanese noodle soups, but refreshing if you want a change from ramen broths all fashionably cloudy from additions like sesame paste, as at Shalala. (Kaedama incidentally has been a regular option at Maruichi since long before Shalala opened; I don't know if Ryowa also offers it, but I'm sure they would do it on request.) And ramen aside, we keep noticing the fresh, tender gyoza with nicely browned bottoms at Ryowa (where Shalala's have been similar in format but MUCH less consistent; skip the gyoza entirely at Maruichi, which don't seem freshly made).

                So I do like Shalala. But with variety being a spice of life, in rotating through numerous hot and cold ramen specialties in that neighborhood I find many options at the other two ramen houses that aren't available at Shalala -- hip though it surely be.

                Finally, while heavy crowds form at all these restaurants at the most popular times (Shalala, especially, is smallest and has shortest lunch hours; Ryowa by contrast stays open all day), you can avoid waits -- I've scarcely waited in any lines in five years -- by noticing the particular times when these places are mobbed, and avoiding those.