Number one, with a bullet
Just-opened ramen house is as good as advertised
Chicoichi Ramen243 W. Ninth St.
Chico, CA 95928
Take the owners of Big Tuna Sushi Bistro, team them up with the former owner of Gen Kai Japanese Restaurant, and give them a restaurant to run—a cozy spot with the lingering good vibes left over from its former inhabitant, Annie’s Asian Grill …
What do you get?
The wonderful brand-new Chicoichi Ramen. Its name declares in Japanese that it is “No. 1” (“ichi” means “one”) and, well, that’s not just an empty boast. Chicoichi Ramen backs it up with excellent food.
The vibe inside (and outside, on the lovely patio) is casual but authentic; all the wall hangings and curtains were purchased from shops in San Francisco’s Japantown.
The menu is fairly simple. Basically it includes four types of ramen, eight kinds of donburi (a rice bowl with meat, fish or vegetables), four appetizers, four salads and a selection of sushi.
Let it be said that Chicoichi’s ramen is not the cheap, junky kind you used to eat as a starving student. I found that out the first time I visited the restaurant, when I ordered tonkotsu ramen (all ramen bowls are $7.75), with ramen in broth made from a boiled pork bone. The other three totally traditional variations served at Chicoichi are shoyu (a soy-sauce-based broth), miso and soy-milk ramen.
My ample, steaming bowl of ramen soup contained slices of roasted pork and boiled egg, bamboo shoots, green onions, delicate bright-pink-and-white fishcakes, bean sprouts, green seaweed, pickled ginger and sesame seeds. Rising from the middle of the soup, like the sails of the Sydney Opera House, was a large sheet of toasted dark seaweed folded in a way as to roughly suggest the art of origami. It is delicious, especially if you are a fan of seaweed.
On my second visit, I sat outside on the patio next to a burbling water feature, as it was relatively cool for a July day and the outdoor air was refreshing.
This time I ordered from the special sushi menu (it is separate from the sushi featured on the main menu), which features a few kinds of rolls, all $11, except the Alaskan roll (smoked salmon, cream cheese, Kanikama—imitation crab—and avocado), which costs $8.
All the rolls sounded really inviting, including the Mexican Roll, made with snow crab, serrano peppers, cucumber and cilantro on the inside, and topped with shrimp, avocado and spicy mayonnaise. I chose the Energy Roll—made with garlic, shrimp tempura, Kanikama tempura and avocado tempura wrapped in delicate soy paper—and sunomono ($4), a pickled cucumber salad.
The sunomono, topped with sesame seeds, was delightful—light, crisp and refreshing. Each bite was as pleasant as the jazz that was playing over the speakers on the patio.
The Energy Roll was lovely to look at. Once again, I was reminded of sails—the soy paper wrapped around my sliced roll pointed upward on each end of it in a playful, sail-like way. And boy, was it delicious—I savored every wasabi- and ginger-garnished bite. The tempura shrimp was a perfect combination of crisp and juicy.
The food, the weather and the friendly service made me so content that I decided to stay a little longer and have dessert. My choice was a bowl of green-tea ice cream ($3)— pretty much my go-to dessert at a Japanese restaurant—and Chicoichi’s was totally yummy. The three other desserts offered are green-tea cheesecake ($3), a mini-éclair ($4) and a cream puff ($4).
To me, the young Chicoichi Ramen is already a hit. With its pedigree, how could it not be?