During the long weekend, I had my hands on some wheels (thanks Vera!) and it’s funny how I always end up doing the same thing when I find myself with a car – and that’s to get a bowl of ramen!
That’s because it seems some of the more popular ramen places are on the Peninsula and South Bay. My latest ramen encounter was with Ramen Dojo, which opened last year in the original San Mateo location of Santa Ramen. In fact, they’re the same owners.
But Ramen Dojo isn’t just a second location of Santa Ramen, it’s a distinctive ramen shop specializing in spicy ramen, also known as “stamina” ramen supposedly eaten by sumo wrestlers training in a dojo.
I was so excited to try a bowl of stamina ramen that I got to Ramen Dojo more than 45 minutes before its 11:30 a.m. opening on Saturday. So I walked around the nearby stores and returned at about 11:10 a.m. to find that I was now ninth in line. (Ramen Dojo, like most ramen places, doesn’t take reservations.) Oh well, that’s still shorter than the line at Santa Ramen. By the time the doors open, 11 more people queued up behind me.
I was able to get a seat at the counter in this tiny spot, which has been renovated to look pretty mod and contemporary with rich colors on the walls and ambient lighting. The menu is written on two chalkboards on either side of the restaurant, noting the three types of broth: soy, garlic pork, and miso. After you choose your broth, you decide on the spice level: mild, regular and extra spicy. There’s non-spicy, but if you come for stamina ramen, why bother?
I got myself a bowl of the garlic pork ramen on the mild side ($8.95). You can add extra toppings, and I also heard a lot of people asking for extra noodles, but I just got the standard serving to see what was in Ramen Dojo’s typical bowl.
There was just one server working, but she looked like she had a real system of going to whom she remembered came first, and then submitting orders to the kitchen in a staggered way so they’re not inundated with ramen orders.
After I gave my order, my bowl of ramen came 10 minutes later. It was a beautiful bowl with this huge leafy lettuce on the side and topped with the standard items of quail egg, two pieces of roasted pork, fried whole garlic (which looked golden orange like a tiny mandarin orange), kikurage mushrooms, and green chives. Creating an elegant topping were threads of red pepper.
What’s also distinctive about Ramen Dojo’s ramen is they add a spoon of rich chicken gravy, which created this beautiful marbling effect in the broth with the dark thinly sliced kikurage mushrooms. I tried to shoot the broth but I don’t know if you can clearly see the beauty of the black and beige marbling. You just have to go check it out yourself.
The noodles were thicker than what I remember being served at Santa Ramen, and they had quite the spring to them. This is probably the first bowl of ramen I’ve eaten in the Bay Area where it was cooked to the right under-done consistency, without me specifically asking for that.
I enjoyed eating everything in the bowl, and the pork was quite nice even though it’s not as tender as those served at Santouka Ramen in San Jose. Still, everything was done just right, especially the pork broth, or tonkotsu. I didn’t taste much of the garlic, but it had such a full body that I would always be sure to sip it with every spoonful of noodles. Sometimes sipping the broth by itself would allow the spicy flavor to come out, though it was mild as advertised. It was the perfect level of spiciness for me.
As I was leaving, there were still people waiting at the entrance, but not as crowded as what I’ve seen at Santa Ramen. But even if there were a long line, I would wait because Ramen Dojo’s stamina ramen is really satisfying and gets your day going right. Maybe not necessarily ready to tackle a sumo wrestler, but happy to share a bowl of noodles with one.
Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St., San Mateo. PH: 650.401.6568. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m., daily except Tuesday. MasterCard and Visa accepted.
Thursday, June 02, 2011