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Aug 2, 2012 01:00 AM

Kotoya Japanese Ramen: A Pictorial Essay

Verdict: Just getting started, and showing some promise...

Tucked into the same mini-mall as Hop Li on Santa Monica Blvd. in West L.A., Kotoya is in its first month of operation. Liquor license is still pending. There is a ramen bar, in addition to tables. Decorated with wooden wall fixtures, the dining room itself is welcoming. The menu here is a bit confusing. It consists of "white" ramen (shoyu), and "red" ramen (miso). The "red" option allows for different levels of spiciness. All broths are pork-based. We ordered one shoyu bowl and one miso bowl (mild spicy). The staff seems ready to answer questions about the menu (which hopefully is a signal that will nudge the management to clarify the menu for future diners).

Sides include soboro-don (rice bowl with roasted chicken and scrambled egg), hayashi meshi (shredded onion with curry beef over rice), hiya-yakko (cold tofu 2 ways: with spicy oil and with bonito flakes+soy sauce), chicken kara-age, and age-dashi tofu. We tried to soboro-don, the hayashi meshi, and the hiya-yakko 2 ways. All three were well-executed, though nothing spectacular (but then again, the sides are not supposed to be the stars in a ramen house).

There are also 3 variations of tsukemen on the menu, but I did not have a chance to try them.

- The chashu itself is just terrific. The pork is perfectly tender, juicy, flavorful, and texturally complex. In a word: Super! The chashu by itself is on par with the best I've had in any ramen-ya in L.A.
- The miso broth, with a hint of spiciness, is quite nice. That broth goes great with the chashu.

But here is where things take a turn. The shoyu broth tasted good on the palate upfront, but lacked depth. The noodles themselves had some "bite", but were uninspiring overall. And unfortunately, the nitamago (flavored egg) was too hard-boiled, and cold! It tasted like it was simply taken out of the fridge, cut in half, and served. I would have really liked a decently prepared hanjuku egg with my shoyu bowl to see if the broth could be taken to the next level with the runny yolk, but alas...

To be fair, Kotoya is in its infancy, and is thus still "feeling its oats", so to speak. But they already serve a really, really nice piece of chashu, which is always good to build on. I have a feeling that I'll probably see improvements on my next visit there. Plus, I still have to try their tsukemen!

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  1. Ddin't notice the tofu dish when I visisted, oh well. My review:

    How was the corn in the ramen?

    1. " And unfortunately, the nitamago (flavored egg) was too hard-boiled, and cold! It tasted like it was simply taken out of the fridge, cut in half, and served"

      Sounds like Santouka. What is that picture with the corn? Is it just a miso ramen w/ corn?

      12 Replies
      1. re: ns1

        The egg at Santouka is at least room temp. The egg at Kotoya is just cold.

        I added corn to my bowl of miso ramen (extra add-on). It's more Sapporo style, but I like it.

        For now, Santouka, Tsujita & Miyata Menji are still my solid picks in West LA for Japanese noodles.

        1. re: J.L.

          I've gotten cold ones from Santouka...

          is it just straight up corn or wok fired like Mottainai?

          1. re: ns1

            Corn at Kotoya: Straight up.

            Sorry to hear about the cold egg at Santouka. I will try the #7 bowl again, just to, ahem, see how the egg is... Yeah, that's the ticket...

            1. re: J.L.

              It's funny how santouka used to be the benchmark, but with the new wave of ramen shops santouka's egg is straight up embarrassing.

              1. re: ns1

                But the rest of the components in their bowl, especially the broth, is very very good.

                1. re: J.L.

                  Yes, this cannot be disputed. Santouka shio special pork will always hold a place in my heart.

                2. re: ns1

                  Funny, I was even thinking the same thing about the egg at Yamadaya yesterday. It's still soft and orange in the middle and not like the cooked through ones at Santouka. But it is not nearly as soft and runny as the ones at Jinya or Tsujita. The bar for those eggs has been raised substantially.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    On a related note...anyone got a recipe or link on how to make eggs like that?

                      1. re: J.L.

                        That only explains the cooking part. How do you get the soy part, or whatever is causing that marinated egg color?

              2. re: ns1

                I never understood why, but the ramen toppings in Japan are almost always cold or room temperature. You can go to the highest rated restaurant in the Ramen Database and it will still be cold. Funny considering that they also go to a lot of trouble to pre-heat the bowls.

                1. re: la2tokyo

                  Maybe it's because tender chasu is easier to slice thinly when cooled and that the egg, once cooked to that critical level of runniness, has to be cooled so it doesn't overcook.

          2. dang, jl, you are already on the scene, and the joint just opened. ???

            what are the last two dishes on that bicameral plate on the right ???

            also, any clue if they have chicken-and-fish broth only ramen here ???

            thanks for the prompt report.

            4 Replies
            1. re: kevin

              Heheh I was running errands in the area anyways. The tofu dish is the hiya-yakko (cold tofu 2 ways): Spicy oil and Soy sauce with bonito flakes - Decent.

              I believe they only have pork broth for now.

              Thanks for the kind words.

              1. re: J.L.

                hopefully i'll hit it up this weekend, for once we're talkin about something within my price range.

                  1. re: J.L.

                    if my memory does not escape me for a solid decade that was an old La Salsa space, right ?

            2. Great review and photos as usual. Still haven't ventured beyond Santouka and Tsujita, but it'd be cool to support a business at the ground level, so to speak.

              Somewhat of a tangent, is shio ramen not very popular? It's my favorite at Santouka, but most places don't serve it.

              4 Replies
              1. re: PeterCC

                Shio ramen at Santouka is the "default setting" for most on the LA CH board. I just happen to like the miso flavor better.

                1. re: Servorg

                  Miso is second, then shoyu at Santouka, for me.

                2. re: PeterCC

                  Try it at Yamadaya. It's clear as opposed to the milky shio/tonkotsu at Santouka.

                3. Do you guys know if they close early on the condition of running out (as stated on their website)? Was thinking about going at 9 last night (since I live within walking distance), but was afraid they would be closed.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chrishei

                    According to Yelp they close at 9:30 PM, but then again those factoids can be variable depending on (as you've noted) running out of food or the absence of diners and the chef wanting to go home.