It is said that opening and operating a successful restaurant is one of the toughest jobs around. Keeping a ramen shop open in Reno appears to be a particularly tricky business—with three of the last five opening and closing in fewer than four years. Latest on the scene, Uchi Ramen occupies a comfortable space with seating for perhaps 30. The menu features Japanese street food favorites. I had fresh air for lunch, ensuring a big appetite for dinner.
There are only four appetizers, plus a couple of yakitori—grilled, skewered meat—options offered. I ordered the lot—or tried to; they were out of chicken thigh. No worries, though, as the pair of fatty, crispy pork belly skewers ($5) with a bit of shichimi Japanese spice blend on the side held their own just fine. The other apps—each $4—were plates of deep-fried goodness, with all save one delivered in record time. It was as if the chef knew what we were going to order before we did.
Shrimp shumai dumplings were crispy and much more flavorful than the typical steamed Chinese dim sum variety. Served with a spicy sauce, those five morsels quickly disappeared. Just as good was a plate of four pork gyoza with the same sauce, plus shoyu and scallion for dipping. More complex in preparation and flavor, three takoyaki—battered balls of octopus and tempura scraps topped with fish flake and Japanese mayo—were hot and gooey goodness in a bowl. I really enjoy this combination of flavor and texture, and Uchi does a great job of it.
Last to arrive, because they take more time to prepare and cook, were shishamo—five little smelts dredged in flour and salt, then deep-fried and served up nice and hot with a drizzle of shoyu and a side of shichimi. My wife—though a fan of most seafood—was not fond of the fishies. They might be a bit too “fishy” for some, but I loved every bite right down to their crispy little tails.
After so much fun with the starters, our bowls of ramen were like a bonus round. Ranging from $10-$14, every bowl starts with pork bone tonkotsu broth simmered for up to 20 hours. My wife’s Mi-So-Hot ($12) included red miso, soy-braised pork belly, spicy ground pork, corn, scallion, sesame, fried chili and ajitama—a halved, six minute boiled and marinated egg that I considered one of the best things in the bowl. I ordered Uchi-Kuro ($12) with shoyu, black garlic sauce, fried garlic, charred pork belly, ajitama, wood ear mushroom, sesame seed, baby spinach and scallion. There’s a decent list of extras you can add for a buck each. I added marinated bamboo shoot.
The Mi-So-Hot broth was sweet—perhaps from the copious amount of corn—but with plenty of kick on the back end. The meat was tender and not dry, and the noodles were just a little past al dente and tasted fresh. The broth in my bowl was savory and complex, with similar results on meat and noodles and excellent veggies. In fact, there were so many goodies in the bowl that there was barely room for the broth; it acted more as a sauce for everything, rather than a soup. Both bowls were extremely satisfying, if a bit difficult to finish after all those great small plates.
The word “uchi” is Japanese for “home,” and I’m hoping these folks are able to break the curse and make Reno home for years to come.