Black Garlic Oil Ramen at Setsuna

When I started looking for a place to have dinner after a movie, my friend KirkJ suggested Setsuna Japanese Restaurant & Bar in the Northgate area of Seattle. As a restaurant to have ramen, Setsuna fell under my radar as it is not explicitly a ramenya. If I’d read the Yelp reviews carefully, I would have been duly informed, as KirkJ had. One look at the menu on arrival was enough to convince me to give it a try, especially one called black ramen, not particularly a descriptive name, but explained on the menu as having “rich soy sauce flavor with original blackened garlic butter dressing,” apparently a specialty of northern Kyushu. The other ramen were standard, one with a shio (salt) broth, another with shoyu, and one spicy.

The black ramen arrived not only in what appeared to be an inky broth but impressively clad in a dark green, almost black bowl served on a black plastic tray, a culinary Darth Vader. The stunning presentation was not entirely dark. Poking above the surface were slices of bright green yu choy leaves, starkly contrasting bean sprouts, slices of seasoned bamboo shoots (menma), pinkish pork (kakuni), the pale yellow and milky white of the half-boiled egg (ajitsuke tamago) and fine threads of dried red chiles that looked like saffron, likely borrowed from the Koreans. Underneath were lurking ramen noodles which when lifted up provided yet more contrast against the black surroundings.

The broth was made from pork, normally brownish in color. What gives this ramen its dark hue is mayu, which is made by slowly frying garlic in oil until it turns black, then puréeing it until smooth. There must be some art involved without making the garlic bitter. It lent the broth a certain powderiness that coated the tongue, not off-putting but interesting. As ramen goes, Setsuna’s was hardly salty, almost qualifying as low-sodium. The pork broth should have been richer and more flavorful to compensate, but it was good enough. The eggy noodles were excellent with just the right amount of springiness. Rather than being slices of pork belly, there were leaner chunks, quite tasty. The half-boiled egg was perfection itself: the white was firmly set but the yolk creamy as in the best ramen, with a surprisingly pleasant sweetness. Kudos to the restaurant for offering such a compelling bowl of noodles, one I doubt you’d find anywhere else in the Seattle area, but I give it simply a “good” rating (☆☆☆), mainly because of the understated broth, a significant component of a great ramen experience.

My wife’s salmon miso dinner wasn’t bad (☆☆½), mainly marred by previously frozen salmon that hardly had miso flavoring, tempura pieces (shrimp and vegetables) that were light and crispy but oily, good miso soup, fine salad with a wasabi dressing and sliced cantaloupe.

Salmon miso dinner
Salmon miso dinner

Setsuna Japanese Restaurant & Bar
11204 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle, WA 98125

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