Santouka – After Five Times I’ve Decided Santouka Is OK

6 Feb

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Now having an official Top Ten Ramen list, courtesy of JGold, I had the chance to revisit my first check on this list, Santouka. Strangely, this happened in Irvine, CA, in a hidden corner of the old Heritage Plaza near where Bullwinkle’s used to be (now it’s a Buffalo Wild Wings).

I had been to Santouka, described as “the McDonald’s of ramen” by JGold, several times over the years. In P.T. days (pre-Tsujita), this is what the ramen cognoscenti in LA held up as great ramen. I had always found it not porky enough, preferring the naked pork brawn of Daikokuya. But I felt compelled to give it another shot.

Like its brethren in Torrance, Costa Mesa, and West LA, Santouka Irvine is in the food court of a Japanese supermarket. Irvine is not a particularly heavy Japanese area, so it was surprising to see an outlet of NTTdocomo, the Verizon of Japan. Rounding out the food court was an okonomiyaki place and a typical curry and donburi place.

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I got the famous shio ramen. You choose between shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), and miso for broth, and small medium and large. It’s all between $6 and $9. The bowl is served with a couple pieces of chashu, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, green onion, and a slice of fishcake.

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The chashu was a nice surprise. I didn’t remember it as anything special. And maybe that’s still the case, since it is good but not special. But it is a bit charred, good flavor, just a bit thin, which I don’t prefer.

All the other elements were pretty good. Shoots were just right in terms of doneness, I liked the mushrooms, and the green onions were a nice contrast. The fishcake was kind of forgettable, but isn’t it always?

Experienced eaters may be a bit disappointed to not see an egg in the ramen or any exotic element, like Shin Sen Gumi’s fermented miso. That’s fine. It all works pretty well together and I didn’t feel like something was missing.

The noodles were also good. Not firm, like you can request at SSG, but nicely chewy and a good medium size.

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The real problem with the ramen was the salty broth. Too salty. I know, it may seem stupid to criticize a soup for being too salty when it’s called “salt soup.” Like ordering beef stew and complaining that your bowl had meat in it. But I had a bite of katsudon in the middle and thought it was totally bland. J, who was eating the katsudon, told me it was seasoned fine and it was my taste buds that were out of whack.

Anyways, this trip to Santouka changed my mind about them. I don’t think I’m going to choose it over Hannosuke tempura when I’m at the West LA Mitsuwa. But I’ll at least think about it a little.

Oh, and I almost made it to the end of a ramen review without fooddouching the review by comparing to Tsujita. Well, to paraphrase Mr. Gold, Santouka (as good as it is) is playing checkers while Tsujita is playing chess. Maybe thermonuclear war.

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