REPORT - Sakuramen
We recently visited Sakuramen in Adams Morgan as part of our quest to try--and write about--every new restaurant in the District. Our report follows, but I've read good things about the restaurant both here and on Yelp, so I'm wondering if we caught them on a bad night or maybe just set our expectations too high; this isn't Toki, but nothing is. Anyway, if you've been to Sakuramen, what do you think?
I’m a little late on the ramen bandwagon, but now that I’m here, I’m not going anywhere. DC’s most famous ramen shop, Toki Underground, turned me into an instant fan, so when I heard about DC’s semi-new ramen venture, Sakuramen, I eagerly planned a stop there to sample their goods. As luck would have it, that evening was chilly and rainy-- perfect for a bowl of piping hot noodle soup.
Sakuramen is small, brightly lit, and anchored by a long communal dining table, with a few neighboring four-tops surrounding it. We snagged the last open table while we ordered a round of beers. And by that, I mean, we tried to order a round of beers, except non-alcoholic Kirin is the only beer available here. While this ramen shop is still somewhat new, it’s been open for nearly five months—certainly long enough to get that pesky liquor license they claimed was on the way when they first opened! When I noticed the unmistakable pop of a champagne cork, my server confirmed that the place is BYOB.
We ordered the mushroom steamed buns (one of us was vegetarian) as an appetizer. They arrived at the table quickly, but on her second bite, one of my dining companions noticed the unpleasant sensation of paper in her mouth. She quickly removed it (a rather large sheet) and set her plate aside. The rest of us, in turn, slowed our chewing, and noticed the similar sensation of chalky paper stuck to the buns. It was totally unsavory, to say the least. I’m inclined to believe that the kitchen at Sakuramen uses pre-made bun dough (how else to explain the paper?), but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, even without the papery buns, the mushroom filling was just okay. I expected that I’d taste the ginger, hoisin, and sesame oil, but the saltiness of the mushrooms dominated the other flavors. When he cleared our plates, our server didn’t ask why none of us finished our buns, and I hoped the ramen would make up for the papery bun debacle.
Despite reading good things about the Chosun online, I couldn’t resist the recently-added tonkotsu special. Unfortunately, it, too, was underwhelming. The broth was so flavorless it bordered on watery, and the pork loin was a tad overcooked. The poached egg, an addition whose richness I’ve come to expect in a bowl of ramen, was also absent, and the strangely chewy texture of my noodles was one I didn’t enjoy. Adding a fireball (marketed by my friendly server as ‘quite hot’) lent it just enough flavor to make it (more) enjoyable. I sampled my sister’s Chosun broth, which was substantially more flavorful, though her noodles (wavy, rather than straight) weren’t anything to write home about, either.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with my visit to Sakuramen. My food was unremarkable, they were understaffed, and they don’t sell beer or wine. Additionally, the space isn’t very large, which meant that as people trickled in, they congregated right next to our table while they waited. Given all of that, I can’t think of a reason to return, especially when my favorite ramen house is around the corner from my place. Toki, I’ll see you again soon.
That's a shame the tonkotsu wasn't very good. My impression is tonkotsu ramen isn't really something you can just toss onto the menu: you really have to work hard at improving your recipe for years and years. The good tonkotsu places I know are pretty much dedicated to its craft.
Anyway my Sakuramen experience has been mixed. If you go next time I would suggest the Spicy Miso. I asked for it as hot as they could make it and it was so spicy that I couldn't even finish it, so I definitely want to try a scaled down version. The noodle quality was good at least.
As far as ramen goes I've been to Toki, Ren's, Temari, Satsuma, and Sushi Taro. IMO the only two worth visiting are Toki and Ren's. I've heard of Tanpopo but my friend didn't like their ramen and I don't really want to trek from Rockville to Annandale for potentially mediocre ramen.
If you're going to review a place, familiarize yourself with the cuisine beforehand, or at least before you write said review.
Paper on the bottom steamed buns is completely normal, as someone previously said, to reduce sticking. Says more about you than Sakuramen.
"The poached egg, an addition whose richness I’ve come to expect in a bowl of ramen, was also absent"
You know there are tons of different permutations of how ramen is made. This is like saying you ordered a "sandwich" and was disappointed there was no turkey on it as you've come to expect all sandwiches to have.
"though her noodles (wavy, rather than straight) weren’t anything to write home about"
I'm curious why you make a point of this. Fresh ramen noodles are often wavy. They are often straight. Also they are often fat. They are often thin. Get my drift? Ramen noodles come in many shapes and sizes, no one noodle, just as no one broth, or no one topping is emblematic of ramen.
It's too bad you didn't enjoy the meal, but you really owe it to yourself and the business you're publishing reviews about to have a working knowledge of the cuisine.
I actually really enjoyed my meal there. While I'm not Japanese, I am Asian, and I lived in NY for 20 years and traveled through Japan frequently as a kid. Steamed buns are always served with paper and I love BYOB places, lets you drink your choosing for much less. And while Toki's broth is better, its not exactly traditional. I live closer to Sakuraramen and welcome any sort of ethnic food to the neighborhood. My egg was really nicely cooked, and the noodles had a proper chew to it. I'll be back to get my noodle soup fix often, unless I can convince my mom to move in.