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

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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.

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Kukai Ramen & Izakaya


The biggest Asian restaurant opening to hit the Eastside since Din Tai Fung has been that of Kukai Ramen & Izakaya. Kukai is a highly successful ramen chain in Japan. The Bellevue branch is the first in the States. No sooner had Kukai opened its doors than the lines started forming. For weeks, you could never get immediately seated, exacerbated by its limited weekday hours when their doors close for 2½ hours in the afternoon. And forget about weekends. You need to have the patience of Job to get a seat. About a month and a half ago, we attempted to go but were confronted by a line outside. We skipped it and went elsewhere.

Today, we were in the area and decided to give Kukai another go. This time, we got seated immediately.

The first thing that we noticed upon entry was the noise level. I’ve ranted before about restaurant cacophony; Kukai is right up there with the worst. We got seated at a two-person table, barely inches away from diners on either side of us. Our waiter informed us that the most popular ramen in Japan is the tonkotsu and the most popular izakaya item, the takoyaki.

For me, the choice was obvious—the tonkotsu. My wife wanted cold noodles to temper the hot weather we’ve been having lately. Her choice was the tsukemen, cold noodles and accompaniments that are dipped in a broth served on the side. Her choice of the broth was tonkotsu, the others being shoyu (soy sauce) and chicken. You would think that the tonkotsu of both our dishes would be the same, but you’d be wrong. I’ll comment on this later.

The tonkotsu ramen (☆☆☆½) broth was delicious, salty, not as porky nor milky as the most genuine versions, but tasty nonetheless. The ramen noodles were perfectly cooked, al dente, and kept their toothsome texture almost to the end. Virtually a hallmark of a great ramen accompaniment is a seasoned half-cooked egg (ajitsuke tamago) with a firm white and creamy yolk, the way the Japanese prefer it. Served whole, Kukai’s was almost perfect with a yolk that was a half congealed. Also included were bean sprouts, pork chashu, shredded green onions and rings of dried red chile. At $11, tonkotsu ramen is not an inexpensive noodle soup.

Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen

Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen (Note: egg cut in half with chopsticks by me)

Diners have the option of choosing a “traditional” or low-sodium broth. Even though I like to watch my sodium intake, the issue of ramen’s saltiness (both fresh and packaged) really comes down to the broth where almost all of it is concentrated. The obvious strategy is not to finish the broth once everything else is eaten, though the temptation might be great to polish it off.

The noodles of the tsukemen (☆☆☆) were flat, cut like a thin fettucine, an interesting variation that worked quite well. They were accompanied by menma (seasoned bamboo shoots) and yu choy, all topped with finely shredded dried seaweed. They also came with slices of pork chashu, like my tonkotsu ramen. The meat was from a larger cut than usual, tasty but the texture somewhat dry. A surprising twist in the dipping broth was a citrusy zing that turned out to be really appealing with this style of ramen.

Tonkotsu tsukemen

Tonkotsu tsukemen

Additional toppings are available for $1.50 each, which in some instances is excessive. Seriously, additional bean sprouts or scallions for $1.50? An egg is not included in many ramens.

Both these ramens were quite good, among the best in the entire region. Based on Kukai’s success here, there’s little doubt that the chain will open more restaurants elsewhere. For next time, an intriguing option to try is the Yuzu Shio Ramen. For small plate snacking or a lighter meal, there is the izakaya menu.

8-23-13: On a return visit, I ordered the shoyu ramen (☆☆☆½). Again, the noodles were perfectly cooked. The broth, again salty, was nonetheless delicious with a slight sweetness. I will have to try the low-sodium broth next time. Gyoza (☆☆☆), clad in a thin skin, was nicely browned and flavorful.

Shoyu ramen

Shoyu ramen

Kukai Ramen & Izakaya
14845 Main St
Bellevue, WA 98007
425.243.7527
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