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Aug 7, 2014 08:02 PM

Modan Artisanal Ramen

This South Pasadena eatery soft opened in the Bristol Farms plaza a few weeks back, but had their official grand opening this past Monday. The promise of tonkotsu ramen near Pasadena had me scurrying over for a taste.

The restaurant is small and has modern, hipster-ish finishes like unfinished wood, Edison light bulbs, chalkboard walls, and lemon water served in mason jars with handles. The twee "artisanal" in the name was consistent with the decor. In other words it was pleasant and clean. There is no customer bathroom on site--you have to use the one in Bristol Farms, so come prepared. We waited about 5 minutes for a table but I can see this place getting crowded.

SO and I went for the spicy ramen, which is the tonkotsu made spicy ($9.50) and we added a choice of don and side salad for $4 more. The regular tonkotsu (Modan) claims to have black garlic truffle oil, which also sounded tasty. These prices seem on par with Daikokuya. I had the spicy tuna don and SO had the chashu. The salad was simple mixed baby greens with chopped tomato and mandolin sliced and fried zucchini (or was it a winter squash--regardless, excellent counterpoint) dressed in a light and tasty sesame vinaigrette. The spicy tuna was good, but very finely ground; I prefer a coarser chop. I liked how it wasn't coated in mayonnaise. The chashu was excellent, however, balancing fat, sweet, savory and char. Some pickled ginger over the top balanced it all nicely.

The ramen broth was very good. I inquired about their broth prep time and was told it was simmered for over 16 hours. The tonkotsu was characteristically rich but somehow clean tasting and didn't leave an oil slick in my mouth. I was also surprised not to find the usual chile oil bomb in the spicy broth but a few dried red chiles floating around and somehow the the broth was infused with spiciness. The noodles were well cooked and might be Sun Noodles. The egg was well cooked (not hard boiled like Shin Sen Gumi's) with a soft whites and jelly-like yolk. The chashu appeared again in glorious slices. I'm pretty sure they lacquered and grilled each slice. Truly excellent meat. The meal was quite filling and good value for money.

The service was a bit chaotic and perhaps slightly inexperienced. No major hiccups but they seemed green. I asked for the gratis ice cream that was promised at the opening on their FB page and we received creamy green tea (sesame and chocolate were also options) with ramen brittle. Think candied pieces of broken Top Ramen. It was a nice ending to the meal.

Other menu items were fried and skewered brussel sprouts with truffle, garlic aioli and some tasty looking karaage wings. This is a nice addition to this part of town. I'm looking forward to hear what other think.

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  1. I'll cosign and say this I was very pleasantly surprised by both the quality of the ramen and the pricing (neither are things I associate with South Pas restaurants...and I live here). The ramen was as good as any other place I've had in the western SGV though I wouldn't put it up against the best of the westside or South Bay. But still, a step forward for South Pasadena.

    10 Replies
    1. re: odub

      pretty much the same thoughts. i actually walked there from my place.

      we both ordered the 'house special' modan tonkatsu (vs. the spicy versions), i went with a combo to include the spicy tuna don and salad while my companion ordered the brussel sprouts.

      the sprouts appeared to have been doused in soy (or could have just been browned) before being grilled and served with what looked like kewpie mayo. good but for 3 brussel sprouts halved, something i'd rather make at home with a toaster oven.

      pork broth was good but i've been doing tsukemen recently and used to the broth also adhering more to the noodles to add flavor. noodles were within the q zone but nothing spectacular. i was compelled to finish the broth after finishing the noodles and it got a little more complex near the bottom.

      the spicy tuna don was filling but unspectacular. the spice was reminiscent of siracha compared to the combo of red pepper and chili oil i usually encounter with any sort of spicy tuna i've seen.

      i give this a thumbs up if you go at lunch and then go into bristol farms for their complimentary fruit and cheese samples. for those of you who care, the limit of samples at each stand is about 12 before they shoo you away.... (not really)

      1. re: barryc

        Is there a ramen place in West sgv that you'd compare it to? What about compared to places on the west side?

        I wanna try but that area isn't exactly close to me.

        Also assume you mean tonkotsu?

        Thx for the report !

        1. re: blimpbinge

          I prefer Benten ramen in the Golden Deli plaza to Modan.

          1. re: PandanExpress

            annnd that's all I need to know.

            "artisan"... EAD.

          2. re: blimpbinge

            is there a pinyin equivalent standard for japanese? i've seen it spelled both ways.

            i like benten. but knowing that the really good places tend to be in south bay or on the west side, i haven't tried many other ramen places in the SGV. and my attitude about traveling to the west side for food is similar to that of the west siders feelings about chinese food in the SGV. if i lived on the west side, i'd do a lot more ramen. but since i'm here, i concentrate on the specialities the SGV has to offer.

            1. re: barryc

              Well tonkatsu is a breaded fried pork cutlet, and tonkotsu is pork bone broth

              Tonkatsu ramen may imply there was a fried pork cutlet somewhere :x

              1. re: blimpbinge

                for some reason i thought it was pork in general.

                1. re: barryc

                  Do not speak it, not an expert, but it seems like the word 豚 in Japanese can either be pronounced "buta" or "ton", meaning pig/pork. Like blimpbinge said above, -katsu after the "ton" means cutlet and -kotsu means pork-based broth/stock.

                  1. re: barryc

                    then yes, i meant tonkotsu, thank you for pointing that out.

                  2. re: blimpbinge

                    "Tonkotsu ramen" implies there is a spelling mistake somewhere. Your explanation is as clear as it needs to be.

          3. Truffle oil doesn't sound tasty to me at all.... I assume the brussel sprouts are also doused w/ the stuff (rather than actual truffles)?

            3 Replies
            1. re: paranoidgarliclover

              My interpretation is that the black garlic truffle oil is a riff on the typical mayu (black garlic oil) added to tonkotsu ramen. Since mayu is a flavor bomb in and of itself I don't know how the truffle comes through. I like the idea, nonetheless.

              I believe the b sprouts are fried on their own and come with a truffle accented aioli. Likely flavored with truffle oil rather than real truffle, judging from the $4 price tag. I didn't try them, but saw a number of orders making their way to tables.

              1. re: oniontears

                And just to add: the vast majority of truffle oil isn't made from truffles anyway. It's just formulated to smell/taste similar.

                1. re: odub

                  And thus spawned umami burger's truffle burger empire.

            2. what makes it artisanal? I'm just curious.

              3 Replies
              1. re: TonyC

                I don't think it's the noodles, which I believe they buy.

                I had an average experience with them. I got the shoyu and while decent, lacked something. Richness, mouthfeel, who knows. I wasn't expecting the fat-bomb of a tonkotsu broth, but I also wasn't expecting whatever I had. The broth didn't taste like a ramen broth at all. The noodles were also nothing to write home about.

                The chashu I had was also unexpected. Instead of two tender, rich slices, what I got was pretty tough and dry. I guess the modern touch is that they grill it because I saw some grill marks on the pieces. It wasn't to tough that I didn't feed it to my toddler though, so there's that.

                Maybe I choose poorly in getting the shoyu ramen, but I would expect any choice of ramen on the limited menu to be at least good or else, why offer it?

                Service does seem pretty frazzled. I didn't notice till after I dug in to my bowl of noodles that it was missing bamboo AND an egg. Luckily, once I asked the server about it, he brought both out promptly.

                I was also disappointed that the earlier iteration of the menu listed the veggie ramen as vegan, but when we got to the restaurant, it turned out it was only vegetarian. The noodles contain egg. One of the reasons we went there in the first place was so that my husband (the vegan) could get some ramen.

                Rent must be high in that spot because for the price, I expected a little more ramen in the bowl. As it is, if I were in a quick fix, I'd probably head to Benten Ramen in the area. Modan is a bit farther and the quality isn't so much better that it warrants the extra few minutes in the car.

                1. re: TonyC

                  I'm with you TonyC - artisanal and ramen, they don't belong in the same sentence.

                  1. re: carter

                    what ivan orkin did in japan might be an exception when he created ivan ramen. he managed to infuse the technique he learned from CIA and some of his jewish background (using schmaltz as the binder for his tsukemen, etc.). if i had a chance i'd try his new place in NY.

                2. i saw a similar modan sign on colorado in eagle rock. are they expanding?