Sakuramen in Adams Morgan - Report
With the explosion of ramen places in DC, I'm beginning to detect a theme. Offering too many choices by producing a rather thin flavor profile and then adding extras to perk it up.
At Sakuramen I tried the tonkatsu red, which is pork bone soup spiced up with red pepper, in this case chili oil. Notice that they don't offer simply tonkatsu ramen, without the red oil. When I asked about this, the waitperson recommended against ordering it without the chili oil. I was told they prepared it from 1 to 5 on a spicy level, and 3 was recommended to me, so that's what I got.
I tasted some of the soup with only a tiny bit of the chili oil, and I agree I doubt I would have been happy with the plain broth, but the chili oil was just irritating.
The great success here is the pork topping. It is GREAT, and it really puts Daikaya in the dust. I also got some bulgogi topping on the side. It's a bit too sweet for ramen, but I got it to counteract the chili oil. The noodles with the tonkotsu ramen are thin and wavy and ok. Some of the other ramens come with thick and curly noodles, so maybe those are better.
The other ramens on offer are from chicken stock which is unusual for ramen. I'll probably go back to try one of those.
I don't want to sound too picky. The place filled up quickly after opening, and any serious attempt at ramen is going to wind up being a cheap and delicious meal - but it is not without a wait unless you get there early.
I was headed to New Amsterdam on Saturday to pick up some lunch to take back to work, and stopped here instead. I, Too, had the red - And also picked a '3' for heat after being told that their heat scale is very authentic. The result was not much heat, next time I will pick a '5', lesson learned - But the Ramen was delicious, the pork was perfect (it looked very fatty but was just the right ration of meat to fat and very savory), and everything held up after a 15 minute walk back. I expected to have to re-heat when I arrived, but upon opening the ramen was the perfect temperature and even the noodles didn't get soggy.
I also got a side of Oshinko (japanese pickles) and Kim Chee, both of which were very good - The Kim Chee was far spicier that the level '3' ramen.
Thanks for the review. I've been meaning to go Ramen hunting in DC and find the best (I've only had Temari so far).
I'm a fan of the chili oil. When I get Tonkotsu Ramen, I like it with a decent amount of chili oil and garlic. Is the broth rich or on the thin side? Tonkotsu Ramen should be rich and almost overwhelming.
Btw, this is a nitpick, but it's Tonkotsu (with two O's), not Tonkatsu. The former refers to pork bone, while the latter is a breaded pork cutlet. It's a common mistake--I just feel the unhealthy urge to correct it.
You're right about the spelling, I know the difference, just didn't check it. Thanks for pointing that out.
Tonkotsu should be both mild and complex, which is a tough trick to pull off requiring a great deal of effort and many hours of cooking down pork bones. The final product can be thick and milky looking. See photo below from Kamurasaki Ramen.
The chili oil is a crude and cheap way of adding spice, kills the effect of the tonkotsu, and in this case I get the sense that it is simply masking the fact that the tonkotsu base is a bit thin tasting.
I think it's just like I wouldn't put ketchup on a Ray's Hellburger, but I would on many other good burgers.
Sakuramen is another place putting out a respectable product that takes shortcuts, or so it seems. I'll go for their ramens with chicken stock next time.
I think the issue with the chili oil is that some people confuse "mild and complex" with "boring and uninspired." These are usually the same folks who opt for toxically hopped IPAs and tongue-numbing chilis. The flipside is that some stocks are so subtle as to be bland (see Tanpopo in Annandale). Ramen is a difficult dish to pull off successfully. My hat's off to anyone who has the guts to attempt it.