Ramen Bushi-Do: Noodle Making at Its Best


I think it’s fair to say that the ramen craze in the Seattle area started not in Seattle, but on the Eastside, on the other side of Lake Washington. Sure, there were several restaurants that served ramen before Kukai (now Kizuki) opened its doors in Bellevue, preceding the arrival of Jinya and Santouka within months of each other, also in Bellevue. But, 2013 was the watershed year when ramen became hot locally and generated enough traction to spawn ramen shops throughout the region.

Hot on the heels of the expansion comes the first ramenya in Issaquah, Bellevue’s neighbor to the east. Ramen Bushi-Do has been quietly doing business as a soft opening, serving only 20 customers per day to iron out kinks and get honest customer feedback, until it officially opens for business on July 1. The operation is run by the folks who own Dough Zone, also of Bellevue (and now, Redmond), that rivals Din Tai Fung for its outstanding dumplings, including superlative xiao long bao. To get things on the right footing, several chefs went to Japan to get instruction from a ramen master, who was also retained to guide Bushi-Do’s development. Furthermore, a noodle-making machine was brought back from Japan and installed in back of the restaurant where fresh noodles are made daily in the morning. This is a rare practice because most ramenya, including highly praised ones in the U.S., more than likely get their noodles custom-made by Sun Noodle (Honolulu, L.A., NYC). For this, Bushi-Do deserves a pat on the back.

Noodle-making machine

Noodle-making machine

To improve texture, one of the master’s recommendations was to use soft (purified) water in the noodle-making process, which the restaurant does. Our party of four, even though we each ordered different ramen using different sizes of noodles, was enthusiastic, the noodles having a springy and firm texture that we all thought was outstanding.

The wait staff was plentiful and enthusiastic, if not particularly knowledgeable in our case. Additional training is clearly needed. There was also a flub in my order.

Our very good appetizer of steamed spinach (horenso no miso ae) was different from most presentations, little mounds of spinach mixed with toasted sesame seeds, dressed with miso sauce and surprisingly topped with a slice of tomato (heirloom tomatoes on the menu).

spinach

Spinach appetizer

This was the first indication that the kitchen wasn’t going to just follow convention. Case in point, one of the cold ramen is topped only with fresh seasonal fruit, the first I’ve ever seen prepared in this manner, though the concept doesn’t personally appeal to me. Another is Curry Tsukemen, which one of our party ordered and really enjoyed. Thick-cut whole-wheat noodles are dipped in a tasty curry broth, a non-traditional pairing, kept bubbling over a Sterno burner. Accompaniments included pieces of pan-fried salmon, chicken and pork, one shrimp battered and fried, seasoned egg (ajitsuke tamago), grape tomatoes and broccolini. To me, the proteins didn’t seem to have been prepared with the same care as the noodles and broth.

Curry tsukemen

Curry tsukemen

Curry dipping broth

Curry dipping broth

Another of our party chose Shio Ramen. This preparation was the weakest of the four we ordered. Despite the great noodles, the broth was thin and the toppings were not to her liking, wedges of tomato and orange, when she would have much preferred savory ones, like a square of nori and menma. In addition, the chicken pieces were dry and chewy.

Shio ramen

Shio ramen

My wife’s Tonkotsu Miso Ramen had the thickest broth among all our ramen, a combination of tonkotsu broth and white miso, the latter lending the bowl a slight sweetness and fermented flavor. Medium-cut noodles were topped with very finely sliced green onions, soft-boiled egg, corn and broccolini. The pork sample she gave me had an off-taste but the others were fine.

Tonkotsu miso ramen

Tonkotsu miso ramen

My tonkotsu broth was quite milky, the result of long simmering, but pork flavor was milder than I like, still a good ramen accompaniment. My noodles were thin-cut and, like everyone else’s, excellent. Mine was the only bowl to have menma, which is house-made and tasty, a shame that it wasn’t standard with other ramen. Other toppings included wood ear fungus, egg, green onions and finely shredded daikon. The egg in all our cases was nearly properly cooked with a semi-congealed yolk but the complex marinade flavors of soy sauce, sake and mirin was barely noticeable. Kizuki makes the exemplary egg locally.

Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu ramen

Ramen Bushi-Do obviously wants to make its mark first and foremost with its great noodles. It also is serious about broths. The kitchen’s experimentation with unusual toppings may not agree with traditionalists’ palates but I imagine many customers will find them likable. The head chef is bold, I’ll give him that. The test menu did not give diners any choices for adding or substituting condiments. And I found the prices to be on the high side for ramen, topping out at $12.50 for both tonkotsu and miso broths, exceeded only by Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. If there’s any area that the restaurant needs improvement, it’s the meat/seafood proteins that accompany the noodle bowls. We’ll give them a little time to work out some of their service issues and to settle on a menu before passing final judgment.

Ramen Bushi-Do
5625 221st Pl SE, Ste 120
Issaquah, WA 98027
425.391.9999

Advertisements

Do Kukai, Jinya and Santouka Have the Best Ramen in Seattle?


A Hawaiian food blogger once asked me about Seattle’s ramen culture. Knowing how robust it was in Honolulu where the blogger lives, I was apprehensive about answering him. Here was the Seattle area, having as much claim as any big West Coast city to strong economic and cultural ties to Japan, a history of Japanese immigration and community, a good-sized population of Japanese nationals, a respectable ensemble of Japanese restaurants—but, no thriving ramen scene. He asked me at the same time what my favorite ramen restaurant in Seattle was. Well…uh…let me see…hmmm. The email exchange had that flavor. That was three years ago.

Mine wasn’t the only lament. Between the Bay Area and Vancouver, B.C., there really hadn’t been much to get excited about.

Then, serendipity struck. Three high-profile ramen restaurants opened almost immediately since that email conversation. Two of them had Japan connections, the other came up from Southern California.

Continue reading

Dining on the Cheap in Christchurch: Samurai Bowl


My four-year-old grandson loves ramen.

His first exposures to it were the dried, packaged quick-cooking kinds that come from Japan by way of the U.S., specifically, Sapporo Ichiban (original flavor) and Myojo Chukazanmai (miso flavor). Our care packages to Christchurch usually include these, and we were sure to bring a good supply with us on our current visit to New Zealand.

So, there was little surprise that he wanted to go straight to Samurai Bowl to have fresh ramen after he and my daughter picked us up and, a week later, his dad at Christchurch Airport. Two visits in eight days. The restaurant is quite popular among locals for offering Japanese food at affordable prices.

There are lots of things on the menu, including gyozadonburi, sushi, salads, curries. Ramen is the most popular meal. The menu is overwhelming at first from the sheer number of things that can be ordered. Lots of pictures on the wall with descriptions added to the full frontal assault of possibilities vying for your attention. Add to this the monthly specials that are also posted at the counter and on the walls, and a cooler full of beverages, including beer.

Samurai Bowl also markets three kinds of packaged ramen, which it sells at the restaurant and various food outlets in Christchurch and other major cities throughout New Zealand.

All the ramen were good (☆☆☆), which is rather surprising for a restaurant with a big menu. The broths were full and tasty. The noodles were eggy and slightly thicker than usual, with good chew and generously portioned. All came with two slices of roasted pork belly, bean sprouts, seasoned bamboo shoots (menma), a square of nori and green onions. A soft-boiled egg (ajitsuke tamago) can be added for additional cost.

The original ramen is a pork and soy sauce flavored broth, which (judging from the menu) is not simply tonkotsu with soy sauce splashed in, but a less milky broth, but good enough to rate pretty well.

Oiriginal reipe ramen (pork and shoyu)

Oiriginal reipe ramen (pork and shoyu)

The miso ramen is my grandson’s favorite, which he shares with his mom.

Miso ramen

Miso ramen

The spicy ramen, Samurai’s most popular, is based on its pork broth, which was spicy though not unbearably. The broth’s distinct reddishness couldn’t possibly come from hot chiles alone, so it’s possible that it derives from kochujang, the relatively mild Korean chile paste. My sample’s egg was cold on the inside and the yolk congealed, a misstep straight from the refrigerator.

Spicy ramen

Spicy ramen

The non-ramen items don’t fare as well.

The spicy miso galbi-don that I had last year was less than impressive. Kara-age curry-don (☆☆) had a couple of problems. The most important was a curry sauce that was a tad sweet and had an overly ground coriander taste. The kara-age pieces were dry from over-frying, but they sure were crispy.

Kara-age curry-don

Kara-age curry-don

One would be tempted to conclude that donburi is not one of Samurai Bowl’s strong suits.

Maybe it might not matter so much when a customer can have a pretty good ramen experience.

Samural Bowl
Shop 5/574 Colombo Street
Christchurch, NZ 8011
03-379 6752

Like this on Facebook

Dinner at Kama’aina Grindz


I am always in search of good Hawaiian food in the Northwest. Not surprisingly, what we get here is not in the same league as what you’d find on the islands, but not for the lack of places that serve it. The numbers of Hawaiians living up here ensures some level of demand, not to mention local visitors to Hawaii who may want to relive what they ate there. By one estimate, there are nearly 20,000 Hawaiians in the Seattle area alone, surely not a huge number but still a good size. So, if you’re on the hunt for spam musubi, saimin, Portuguese sausage with eggs, loco moco, poke, lomi salmon and the like, you’d likely find one or more in the local restaurants. Uwajimaya also has a very good stock of Hawaiian goods and food from its deli.

Recently, there has been an uptick in interest among Hawaiian-born chefs to offer menus inspired by island flavors and ingredients. In Hawaii, you could say the trend was started by the likes of Sam Choi and Roy Yamaguchi, who subsequently spread their wings across the nation. Not content to put forward only traditional foods made in the traditional way, they’ve come up with fusion eats that borrow freely from the islands. There is usually an attempt to “update” the food with more vegetables, both fresh and cooked, for Hawaiian plate lunches are notorious for being largely absent of them. These chefs typically have cut their teeth in the restaurant industry, eventually deciding to demonstrate their talents on food they grew up with. Locally, the Marination chain and Ma’ono (though known primarily for its fried chicken) are examples of this trend. Of the celebrity chefs, Sam Choi’s empire runs a food truck (Poke to the Max), while Roy’s had a brief but unsuccessful run here on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.

Into this mix has come Oahu-born Dean Shinagawa who previously helmed at the prestigious Tulalip Casino restaurant by way of Piatti Restaurant and Roy’s in Seattle. His Everett venture is called Kama’aina Grindz, which translates loosely to “local (Hawaiian) eats.” There is nothing in the interior in the way of Hawaiian ambience except for a few island-inspired paintings on the brick walls. Shinagawa and his sous chef can be seen working behind a high counter, punctuated only by a welcoming sign, “Friends & family gather here.” The maitre ‘d, who doubles as the bookkeeper, was very welcoming and warm, the embodiment of the aloha spirit.

One look at the menu spoke volumes about what the food was going to be about: familiar island ingredients used in imaginative ways and traditional foods reinterpreted. Our good friends, who brought us, have eaten here a few times and loved it. They spoke highly of the Portuguese sausage bibimbop (called Maui style on the menu), which none of us ordered today.

My wife picked the Asian Style Ahi Tuna Salad Sandwich (☆☆½). The cooked tuna, cucumber and red bell pepper mince, bound together in a mayonnaise-like sauce, was tasty but personally I would’ve preferred raw tuna, as in poké, but then it would hardly qualify as tuna salad as we think of it. The fries were steak-cut and tossed in a sriracha-style sauce, sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. These too were very tasty but somewhat mealy (☆☆☆).

Ahi tuna salad sandwich

Ahi tuna salad sandwich

My Broiled Unagi and Smoked Chicken Fried Rice was quite good (☆☆☆). Savory and slightly sweet, the rice was attractively presented, as if inverted from a ramekin, mixed with pieces of tasty smoked chicken. It was obvious on first bite that the eel was fresh, superior to the packaged, pre-frozen kinds from foreign lands available at Asian markets. Topping all this was a mound of lightly dressed spinach mingled with carrot and daikon (white radish) shreds, crispy wonton slivers and white and black sesame seeds.

Broiled unagi and smoked chicken fried rice

Broiled unagi and smoked chicken fried rice

One of our friends ordered miso ramen with shiitake mushrooms, but she remarked that the broth was weak and the noodles overcooked, though to be fair Islanders prefer their noodles that way. Our other friend asked for a modification to a menu item. Instead of a “Huli Huli” Chicken Breast Sandwich, he requested and got just the chicken with a side of rice. The entrée arrived with a spinach salad and fried taro chips. The only comment he made was that the chicken needed more flavor.

Miso ramen

Miso ramen

"Huli huli" chicken breast with rice

“Huli huli” chicken breast with rice

Because Kama’aina Grindz is located in the downtown area of Everett, close to Comcast Arena, we’re not likely to drive over here just for a casual meal, but we would most certainly do it when we’re in the area. The menu is too interesting not to.

Kama’aina Grindz
2933 Colby Ave
Everett, WA 98201
425.322.5280