Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Tanpopo in San Francisco’s Japantown

Where the Ramen is Fast and Furious
1740 Buchanan St. (at Sutter), San Francisco
PH: 415.346.7132
Open daily for lunch and dinner (closes at 10:30 p.m.)
No reservations, major credit cards accepted with $15 minimum

In my next stop in finding some good ramen closer to home, I visited the venerable Tanpopo in the heart of Japantown. My nephew Chris happened to be visiting (taking a prolonged spring break from his college studies in Chicago) so he and his girlfriend, Mary, came for the ride.

We arrived early for dinner on Saturday, and the room had a pleasant spring feel with the fresh pink blossoms nicely offset by the restaurant’s bright green walls. There weren’t any tables big enough for the three of us so we grabbed some stools at the curvaceous counter.

Tanpopo’s menu offered a variety of ramen, including some that looked like it was influenced by other cuisine like Chinese (there were won tons and Northern-style ja-ja mein). The restaurant also offers up sashimi (raw fish) and some daily specials listed on a bamboo wall in the back (things like fried oysters and blue soft-shell crabs).

I already knew what I wanted to get because some of you have suggested I try the spicy ramen. So I ordered the Karamiso Ramen ($9). But first we got a serving of gyoza (various order sizes, we got the 7-piece).

The gyoza looked a bit on the burnt side, but they had a very nice thin skin and the filling had the traditional flavors of potstickers with the combination of ground pork and scallions. (The flavor profile leaned more towards what you’d taste in the Chinese kitchen than Japanese, IMHO.) Tanpopo’s gyoza have a narrow shape, which kind of makes it easier to pick up and dip in the sauce.

When our ramen arrived, the lightly red broth of my Karamiso — a mixture of hot sauce and miso — was a brilliant canvas for the slices of chashu (roasted pork), boiled egg, fish cake, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts.

With my first slurp of the broth, the spicy flavor crept up on me and gave me a big “hello.” It was spicy, but not overly so. It’s the kind of spice level that you get used to after awhile and I really enjoyed it. The ramen noodles were crinkly and good, but maybe a tad overcooked. It wasn’t mushy, but I like mine a bit more springy. (I’m going to have to learn to start requesting firm noodles!)

Chris got the Won Ton Ramen (also $9) that comes with extra pork. The won ton didn’t look like the traditional shapes you see in Chinese restaurants, but he says he liked it. The broth was a bit lighter than he expected since it looked quite dark, and he thought the chashu was a bit bland. I also felt the chashu could have been tender, and agreed that it’s not the star of Tanpopo’s ramen.

Mary went against the grain and was the only one not to order ramen, getting a dish of Yakisoba (fried noodles) instead. The noodles were fried with thin slices of vegetables and some chashu.

Side note: I had my heart set on trying the sake flight that was listed on the menu, but our waitress told us that they didn’t have any alcohol that night. I couldn’t really understand what the problem was, but it seemed like they lost their alcohol license or something because she said there was no sake, no beer, no nothing. Just water and soda.

It was an odd situation because at the counter we were facing this big wall of sake bottles just staring at me like some big tease.

As the night went on, more people arrived and a line started to build at the entrance. Our waitress was quickly going through all the tables, and in a way I felt like we were rushed with our dinner. When I was initially ordering, I was thinking of getting some sashimi but my slight hesitation meant our waitress grabbed my menu from my hands so I had to give up on sashimi.

And after finishing our ramen, we got our dinner check even before we had a chance to ask about dessert. I guess it worked out because I had my heart set on a drink that night so we agreed to find dessert — and alcohol — somewhere else.

Tanpopo’s ramen is probably among the best in San Francisco, but that’s not saying much given how the better ramen can be found along the Peninsula and in the South Bay (Santouka’s toriniku has spoiled me for life!). Still, it’s reliable with an enjoyable broth although the service can seem brusque.

Single guy rating: 3 stars (Reliable Ramen)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:

1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Tan PO PO Japanese on Urbanspoon

More ramen slurping
Ramen House Ryowa
Santouka Ramen
Santa Ramen


Anonymous said...

Try Ajisen Ramen (order the #3) in Fremont, much better than Santouka IMHO.

Also, try the fried squid.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Ramen in the South Bay better than up in SF? Unheard of!

Hungry Dog said...

I love tanpopo, we often go there for lunch on the weekend. I always get the wonton ramen. Weird about the sake!

Mrs. L said...

I feel bad that I don't have ramen more often since I work a block or two from San Jose's Japantown. Maybe I'll go there for lunch tomorrow.

Carolyn Jung said...

That's torture, staring at all that alcohol and not being able to sip any. Plus, a little sake goes so well with crispy gyoza. Hope you managed to get your fill elsewhere.

Ruby said...

mmmm, i love ramen! but i agree, tanpopo is not that great -- although its probably one of th best in sf! i went to a place in san diego that had .... SOFT-BOILED EGGS!! amazing. :)

foodhoe said...

For some reason I can't remember if I've been here or not. Sounds goodish, but SF Jtown is probably further than the South Bay for me... I still have to try himawari and the new santa ramen in san mateo. You always pick such interesting versions!