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No spoon rule at Underbelly

SanDiego Dec 11, 2011 04:45 PM

Does anyone know the origin of the” no spoons” rule at Underbelly? It’s not something that ever occurs at a ramen shop in any country I’ve visited, and certainly not in Japan. I’m used to trying the broth by itself by spoon, eating the ramen, and then maybe picking up the bowl if I want more broth. Is it anything other than a gimmick?

  1. c
    cookieshoes Feb 23, 2012 01:18 PM

    Of course it's complete gimmick. Just like the no-ketchup at Neighborhood and the no-vodka at Craft and Commerce.

    That being said, Arsalun Tafozoli, the guy behind those places, now has a string of clever spots in town, including Noble Experiment. If he is able to open Church Ale House in the Sledgehammer Theatre spot, that will obviously come with some gimmick as well.

    I'd say the gimmicks are a small price to pay for the quality of the places he's successfully brought to the city. Yes, I will admit that it's annoying to eat ramen at Underbelly without a spoon. If he was looking for a gimmick, he could've done better with that one. It's a little too obvious, and a little too heavy-handed, even for his places. It's one thing to not have ketchup at Neighborhood, since they serve other sauces, just like Craft and Commerce serves plenty of types of liquor that aren't vodka. Telling diners to pick up a heavy bowl full of soup and slurp from it isn't really a suitable replacement for something as basic as a spoon (and, in the spirit of the ADA, apparently you're out of luck eating there if you have any type of disability or affliction involving your hands or upper body. Carpal Tunnel, Cerebal Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis, etc). It's only a matter of time before someone innocently spills their bowl all over themselves, or breaks the glass in those nice tables from a bowl that slipped out of their hands. Sure, chopsticks can be a pain for some westerners to learn to use, but you don't actually need chopsticks to enjoy ramen, or any soup. If given a spoon, you can get to every ingredient in the bowl, trouble free, with one hand. And yes, they religiously use spoons in China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam alongside their chopsticks. It's the extreme minority of places over there that don't provide them (if indeed there even are any in this day and age). So, trying to claim that not using spoons is somehow more "authentic" is nonsense, especially considering that the typical bowl of what we refer to as ramen is something that evolved over hundreds of years, borrowing from multiple cultures. Sure, at one point, in that evolution they probably didn't use spoons. Guess what, 300 years ago, nobody had restaurants with convection ovens, indoor plumbing, or electricity. And women weren't commonly allowed to even be in the same establishments that men were. So, why not add those types of "authentic" things in, and really go for the full "this is how they did it back then" experience?

    Ultimately it's harmless and trendy, and there's nothing wrong with entertaining people with tricks like that. His places use a lot of gimmick in the design and service, but that's actually half the fun of them. If the quality of the food and drink wasn't excellent, he wouldn't get away with it.

    Besides, there are lots of gimmicks in the food industry, and oftentimes it's those very gimmicks that make a place noteworthy. To a degree, it's no different than the places who make such a big deal of only using grass-fed beef or that make a big deal out of serving cask ale, or have multiple types of bacon as a featured item on the menu, etc.

    I think the point is to not take it so seriously and enjoy the overall experience of the place. Yes, these gimmicks can come off as prick moves (Seriously, no spoons at a place that serves soup?), and perhaps there is a combination of him trying too hard and quietly laughing at people, but they're his restaurants, and it certainly hasn't hurt the crowds from coming into his places.

    3 Replies
    1. re: cookieshoes
      Josh Feb 23, 2012 04:49 PM

      Great post.

      1. re: Josh
        s
        sdnosh Feb 23, 2012 05:59 PM

        Agreed. Plus, you can take your own ketchup into Neighborhood and your own spoon to Underbelly. Hey, have you noticed Carnitas Snack Shake doesn't have salt shakers or even the paper ones? (at least not the two times I was there). Maybe Arsalun consulted on the concept!

      2. re: cookieshoes
        s
        stevewag23 Feb 23, 2012 08:27 PM

        "I'd say the gimmicks are a small price to pay for the quality of the places"

        Great post.

        It is all based on the premise that the places are "quality" though.

        Underbelly is pretty good.

        Craft and Commerce is not that great.

      3. m
        MrKrispy Feb 22, 2012 08:43 PM

        As I sat in the Underbelly window happily tilting my bowl back, chugging the broth that I fired up with too much ghost pepper paste, I thought...."hmmm how the heck would I drink the broth if I was puny and had a broken arm(s) since there aren't any spoons?" As I drank my $7 tiny glass of beer I decided: I would make the waitstaff (or even better, the owner) lift the bowl for me.

        Keep that in mind next time you break both your arms and want some ramen.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MrKrispy
          SanDiego Feb 22, 2012 09:35 PM

          Ha! Don't get me started on 7 bucks for 25 cl of beer!

          I'm sure everyone knows they are expanding with a mizuwari bar upstairs. If there is some other "unique" rule there like Yamazaki must be sipped while standing on one leg, holding a renge (noodle spoon), I think we can say the place has jumped the shark :)

          1. re: SanDiego
            nileg Feb 23, 2012 12:04 AM

            You forgot the rule that you must literally *jump over a shark* to enter the bar. <grin>

        2. c
          chezwhitey Dec 18, 2011 08:30 AM

          I went last night and was pleasantly surprised. You could say that what they are doing is "hipster chic," but at the same time, that would be ignoring all the things they are doing right. The no spoons rule doesn't bother me, in fact I like that it is more socially acceptable to drink from the bowl. Now if they rest of the crowd doesn't get offended when you slurp the noodles... In any case, their beer selection is very nice with several nods to Japanese brews and the food itself is very tasty. The key is to not go in thinking that this place is a traditional "ramen house" but a place that is putting their own spin on a time honored dish. I had the underbelly ramen which contains char siu and applewood bacon. The bacon gives the broth a nice undercurrent of smokiness while not overpowering the flavorful pork broth. The egg was perfectly soft-boiled and the yolk melded well with the salty pork and bacon. Noodles were nice and chewy. If I do have one complaint its that the char siu was a little too fatty for my taste. That's a minor complaint though. Overall, while I was ready to complain about hipsters charging 10-12 dollars for a bowl of ramen, I came away impressed and have nothing but praise with what they are trying to do. It's a nice rift on a classic while still paying tribute to its roots. Would I go again? Definitely.

          1. chris2269 Dec 11, 2011 05:17 PM

            I think it lends towards gimmick. Like you said in Japan and other countries there is no problem with a spoon. Unless you go by the "Ramen Laws" of the movie Tampopo...but that is a comedy.

            Hipster credibility check list
            "Hey lets not have a sign on our building" No Sign ...Check (two years after that died away in LA)
            "Hey lets not "Allow" Ketchup on our Burgers" "We serve Ramen not burgers"
            "Oh right...Hey lets not have spoons" Check

            8 Replies
            1. re: chris2269
              SanDiego Dec 11, 2011 05:38 PM

              Cheers Chris, I kind of thought so.

              1. re: chris2269
                Josh Dec 11, 2011 06:39 PM

                Except that:

                - There is a sign. In fact, there are two signs outside, and one giant one inside that's easily seen from the street. Also: Izakaya Sakura also has no sign. I'm sure I can expect to see you criticizing them for that shortly, n'est-ce pas?

                - How is not having spoons any different than any other exclusionary choice made by any other restaurant?

                The knee-jerk hating of people doing things differently is pretty weak. Who gives a crap if they don't have spoons? Why does that bother people so much?

                1. re: Josh
                  chris2269 Dec 11, 2011 08:35 PM

                  Oh it doesn't bother me at all. I just find it funny and I do think it is a gimmick in this case.

                  it shouldn't be taken as a more authentic or non-authentic way to eat Ramen.

                  1. re: chris2269
                    Josh Dec 11, 2011 08:42 PM

                    It's just interesting to me why the peculiarities of his places get up people's noses so much. Nobody bats an eye at the never-ending spigot of exciting new forms of corn product littering the menus of most restaurants, but this guy has an unusual thing about spoons or ketchup, and it's this big problem for people.

                    1. re: Josh
                      l
                      littlestevie Dec 12, 2011 02:14 PM

                      Umm, what does corn have to do with some trendy and hip place in Little Italy not allowing spoons? I think it is kinda funny that some non-Japanese guy opens up a place that serves ramen does not allow spoons because the places in Japan may or may not allow it. I went to a fair number of ramen houses I lived up in the LA area. These were all over different parts: Gardenia, Little Toyko and Sawtelle districts. Oftentimes my dad or my wife and I were the only haoles in the place, and we always got a spoon if it was wanted.

                      1. re: littlestevie
                        Josh Dec 12, 2011 08:00 PM

                        It doesn't bother me. If the ramen is bad, then that's a different story. If the ramen's good and they have some weird thing about spoons, then what's the big deal?

                  2. re: Josh
                    r
                    Robinez Dec 11, 2011 09:25 PM

                    I guess you didn't see the movie. ;)

                    1. re: Robinez
                      s
                      SteveRB Dec 12, 2011 07:53 AM

                      I remember him on Seinfeld. "No spoon for you, leave now"

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