Archive for Japanese

Katana-ya: Ramen for a rainy winter day

Posted in Restaurants, Reviews with tags , on December 7, 2007 by Susannah


Recently I’ve been akin to a noodle soup fiend, eating bowls of pho and other noodle soups meal after meal. (It may have begun after my trip to Momofuku.) I first heard of Katana-Ya from my friend Steph, whose passion for ramen is so great that she once traveled to six Bay Area ramen noodlehouses in the same day. (Read about her adventures and see more of her photos here.)

While Katana-ya is located in Union Square, one of the busiest areas of San Francisco, it’s a hidden refuge from the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. The shop is so tiny that I’ve passed it many times and never noticed it.

The most popular ramen on the menu is the BBQ pork ramen. Any ramen has a choice of three different styles of broth (light and rich), as well as three flavors (soy, miso and salt). My “rich” broth arrived with a slick coating of oil, but I wasn’t too concerned: Earlier, I’d asked my Japanese partner in crime, Fumiko, what made tasty ramen. “Lots of fat,” she immediately replied. Next time, I’ll try the light broth, as I’ve only had the pleasure of savoring the rich.

The pork was flavorful, tender, marbled with the right amount of fat yet not too heavy. I prefer the miso broth to the soy, which had an incredibly bizarre aroma similar to the smell of rhinos at the zoo. I know that that sounds ludicrous, but honestly, I’ve read similar reviews (note the first review on this page). The noodles also have just the right amount of “QQ,” as the Chinese call it, or glutinous bounce. The second time, however, I ordered takeout, and the noodles had become overcooked. In the future, I plan to order the noodles”extra hard” so that they are perfectly cooked when I’m ready to eat them.

Overall, eating here was a delight (despite the strange flavor profile of the soy base). I can’t wait to try their other dishes.

Katana-Ya, 430 Geary, San Francisco, Calif. 415.771.1280

Unexpectedly Addictive: Momofuku Noodle Bar

Posted in Destinations, Restaurants, Reviews with tags , , , , on November 14, 2007 by Susannah

Whenever I make trips out to Manhattan (which isn’t very often), I always have a laundry list of new restaurants I’d like to try as well as old favorites that I must revisit. Momofuku was one of the new ones: Restaurateur/chef David Chang and his two restaurants Momofuku and Momofuku Ssam Bar have been at the top of Manhattan’s hyped-up list over the past year.

Pork buns

We were seated immediately, an unexpected surprise for a Saturday night in the East Village. Our server recommended the small plates which included pork buns, fried sweetbreads (“the best in the city,” she said) and seasonal pickles. The deep-fried, breaded veal sweetbreads — a first for me — were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. While the sweet-and-spicy chili sauce that accompanied them was well-balanced, I just couldn’t get past the fact that they were thymus glands of a baby cow. Something about them had just the faintest, slightest offal taste reminiscent of insufficiently cleaned innards.

The pork buns weren’t the traditional char shui Chinese barbeque pork buns. Rather, they were a twist on the peking duck that is served in Chinese restaurants around the U.S., slick with hoisin sauce, generous slabs of pork belly and flat, steamed buns. (This is in the case of America only, as peking duck in China is served wrapped in a crepelike pancake.) When I glanced to my left, the girl next to me had cut the fat off of her pork bun. For a second I felt pity for that pig who’d given up his life only to have his succulent, aromatic belly fat cut away and left on a plate. What a shame, I thought, as mine melted away in my mouth. By the time I’d finished, I was certain that this dish was as good as, or almost as good as peking duck. (That would be a strong statement: I once put on 15 pounds eating peking duck three times a week for eight weeks in China.)

Pork ramen

For the entree, our energetic waitress recommended the restaurant’s namesake Momofuku ramen. It arrived in an oversized bowl, a generous (but not overflowing) amount of noodles swimming in caramel broth, surrounded by two kinds of pork (belly and shredded pork neck meat), chili-pickled bamboo shoots, mustard greens, dried seaweed sheets and a barely-poached egg. The broth had such a delicious pork flavor that I didn’t really even need to add Sriracha-style sauce, something that I do on a routine basis to “spice up” my ramen noodle broth. My only complaint (which my friend Steph echoed in her review) was that the noodles weren’t chewy enough. They were limp and lacked that “QQ,” or bounciness, that Asian people so love in their noodle soups. This was probably intentional, but I’d been hoping for squiggly al dente noodles more along the style of udon than soba. Nonetheless, the poached egg completely made up for this. The egg white’s delicate gelatinous texture and the yolk’s creaminess were a great match for the subtle broth.

The cravings kicked in upon my return to the apartment. When I found the following pictures online, I was tempted to go back there the next day just to try the following:
Rice Cakes

Roasted Rice Cakes with Onions and Spicy Chili Pepper Sauce

Seasonal Pickles

Seasonal Pickles

It’s time to book another trip to New York.

Momofuku, 171 1st Ave, New York, New York. 212.475.7899