Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Pop-Up with Ken Ken Ramen in the Mission

UPDATE (9/28/2010): Ken Ken Ramen is no longer doing the pop up at Panchita due to a conflict with the restaurant owner. You can read all about it from SFoodie. Like I say below, be sure to check Ken Ken's Twitter feed for latest information on where they'll be.

Everybody loves the pop-up restaurant these days in San Francisco. With Twitter and Facebook, it’s easy to create a buzz for these temporary eateries set up in established restaurants on their nights off or in someone’s home.

When I heard about the Ken Ken Ramen pop-up at the Panchita No. 3 restaurant (a Salvadoran and Mexican restaurant), I knew I had to check it out. You know I can wait for hours for a bowl of ramen, so I freed up my Monday night to head over to the Mission neighborhood.

Ken Ken Ramen is only in operations on Monday nights. And it’s important to follow their Twitter feed because this month-old pop up is still getting up and running. There are Mondays when for scheduling reasons they aren’t open, so it’s better for your sanity that you check first to make sure they’re planning to open for that Monday.

I visited last week Monday after a couple of misses, and I arrived early at about 5:45 p.m. (The doors officially open at 6 p.m.) I had read blog posts about the long lines (you know those foodies like to invade the new pop ups) so I thought I’d claim my position in line and read a book while I waited.

But the doors were already open and the trademark red paper lantern was hanging out front signifying that Ken Ken Ramen was open. When I walked in, people were already being seated.

On this Monday, the Ken Ken Ramen team was prepared. The team, by the way, includes Revolver owner Robert Patterson, Stephan Roesch, and chef Kenji Miyazaki, who typically works as a line cook at Bushi-Tei in Japantown.

As I sat at the counter, the place looked roomy in the early hours when it wasn’t packed. The staff was a mix of Japanese speakers and some of the Spanish-speaking staff from Panchita. The menu, as you can imagine, is pretty simple with just four types of ramen offered at $11 each: miso, shoyu, vegetable broth, and on this night a spicy miso.

They also have a variety of beer and start you off with a complimentary plate of edamame. The edamame is prepared with a spicy sauce, which was different and tasty but a bit messy to eat with your fingers because of the oil from the spicy sauce. (Most times edamame is just served steamed with a sprinkling of sea salt.)

My ramen came just a few minutes later and it looked like a large bowl that was beautifully garnished with mizuno greens. Every ramen bowl (except the vegetarian option) comes with fresh bamboo shoots, cha siu pork, fish cake and a day-long-soaked soft-boiled egg.

The broth looked tasty from the get-go because I could see the fatty pork residue on the edge. I got the spicy miso ramen, and there was definitely a nice heat to the broth even though it didn’t look red like some other spicy ramen I’ve had around town.

The broth was rich but didn’t really have a strong miso flavor. I enjoyed it, though, because of the deep flavors.

The homemade ramen were thin and crinkly. I felt like they needed to be thicker to feel more substantive, but they had a nice taste and were cooked perfectly with some bite. The rich broth easily clung to every string of noodle.

The pork was nice and tender, but there were just one or two small slices (you can order extra cha siu for another $3).

But I have to say the star of the bowl was probably the egg — a marinated cooked egg that was like a cross between a soft-boiled egg and a poached egg. The white was cooked to maintain the egg’s shape, but when you broke into it, the yolk was soft and creamy, oozing out to color the rest of your ramen yellow. It was simply masterful.

I appreciated the quality of the ingredients used for the ramen at Ken Ken Ramen, but I don’t know if I can call this the best bowl of ramen I’ve had in the Bay Area. It definitely is good (especially the egg) and I found the experience fun and enjoyable. But I wonder if the ramen can compete with the bowls served up just a couple of blocks away at Nombe (I find the homemade noodles at both places fairly similar).

Ken Ken Ramen is worth checking out at least once, and maybe more if you live in the neighborhood.

Follow Ken Ken Ramen on Twitter for location and times.

Other ramen adventures:
Racking Up the Miles for Ramen
Ramen House Ryowa: Berkeley
Tanpopo in Japantown: San Francisco


Carolyn Jung said...

Wow, to take such care with the egg, you know this place means business and really cares about the details. Good think you didn't eat this THIS week. My gawd, it's a scorcher this week.

Single Guy Ben said...

Carolyn, I know! I bet people don't even want to read about a bowl of ramen right now because it's so hot in the Bay Area. I think the Ken Ken Ramen people know too because I noticed its TWitter feed was quiet yesterday so I think they might have skipped this week because of the heat. Which is why it's important to follow the feed before heading over to the Mission!

Hungry Dog said...

Ben, you're so hip! I never know about places like this. :) Sounds like a great place. I need to check out Nombe too.

I'll wait a long time for ramen, too. Love it, even in hot weather like this. My favorite ramen is actually in Kauai, where it always seems to be warm and humid. Yet still I can eat a bowl of hot soup while I'm there...

Single Guy Ben said...

HD: The place on Kauai is a classic with the ramen (or saimin as it's called locally), but a friend told me recently that it's not really the same any more. I'm sad about that but then again there's a lot of good ramen in Honolulu too. But that was a classic.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Oh many, you're giving me a craving for ramen! But at least you're so close to the good stuff. Nothing good back here in Kuching.

Ramen-ya are steadily taking over from the old saimin stands and joints in Honolulu. The price of progress, I guess.