Happy Thanksgiving! Today, let me tell you about something that will taste very good this weekend after feasting on turkey, potatoes, stuffing and pie.
It is ramen — not ramen from a crinkly package but from a steaming bowl in a Japanese restaurant.
Earlier in this series, I visited two restaurants that serve Vietnamese pho, which is made with rice-flour noodles in a clear beef soup.
Ramen is served with wheat-four noodles in a soup made of chicken, pork or combination of the two. The broth can range from pale, to soy-dark to milky white depending on what style it is.
If I can make one flaky comparison of these two Asian soups, it is this:
Pho, with its sweet spices and fresh greenery is cooling. It’s the kind of hot soup that tastes best to me on a sunny afternoon or a summer evening. Ramen is warming. It flicks the comfort-food switch in your head like no other food can on an overcast fall day.
Umaido in Suwanee is the only local restaurant I know of that makes the noodles in house. (This location is a branch of a restaurant in Korea, where the Japanese noodles are popular.) Indeed, you can see through a viewing window into the kitchen by the entrance and see a fancy piece of noodle machinery holding a spool with the dough furled up like a giant roll of paper towels.
You can watch the whole process as the noodles are cut, parboiled and baptised in soup scooped from giant cauldrons.
I visited Umaido soon after it opened a few months ago and generally liked the different varieties of ramen on the menu. For whatever reason, I liked it in my head more than my heart. Were the noodles a little too springy? Was the broth a little thin?
I wasn’t sure. But I am sure that the food was 100% better on this visit. The kitchen has wisely stopped trying to prepare different kinds of broth and focused on making only tonkotsu ramen , a style from the Japanese island of Kyushu.
Tonkotsu broth is the milky white one, made with pork bones. It has loads of collagen, which clouds the broth and gives it an incomparable richness.
You can get the basic tonkotsu ramen ($6.99), as well as miso ($7.99) and spicy varieties ($8.99). Each bowl comes with slivers of gorgeously fatty pork belly called chashu, green onions, tree ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, beni shoga (pickled red ginger) and one soy-cooked egg that looks like chocolate on the surface and gushes just slightly in the center. It is an egg to love unconditionally.
There are tons of condiments with which you can dress your ramen here. (I think this profusion is more of a Korean than Japanese thing.) Choose from hot oil, soy sauce, ginger, fresh garlic to press and toasted sesame seeds in a mill. Please let my friend demonstrate:
Also, if you like, you can order more of anything, from the meat to the noodles to the egg.
If that’s not enough to recommend Umaido, there’s also a bidet in the lavatory:
How about that?
Umaido is open daily for lunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.)
Since I was up at Umaido, I decided to visit another Japanese restaurant that had been highly recommended by the blogger and Northside food queen, Chloe, at ChowDownAtlanta.com.
I was intrigued by her post on Blue Fin Sushi, in which she said that local Japanese chefs consider the ramen here very good.
We arrived to find the restaurant a little busy and understaffed, but with a mostly Japanese clientele.
All meals here start with a serviceable California roll. Whatever…
The miso ramen ($9) was an enormous portion, and held lots of hacked up vegges and meat bits in a thin, salty broth.
The shoyu ramen ($9) — with its salty, soy-darkened broth — was better and served in the traditional style with pickled bamboo shoots. The chashu here is rolled, so the layers of meat and fat melt and commingle nicely on the tongue. You want to savor each of the pieces. The restaurant also makes a tonkotsu ramen, which is available only at night.
I might try it one of these days. However, I’d have a hard time being in the area and not visiting Umaido.