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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5625 221st Pl SE, Ste 120
Issaquah, WA 98027