Miso hungry

It's never open when you want it to be: Momiji Ramen 2.

It's never open when you want it to be: Momiji Ramen 2.

Photo/Allison Young

Momiji Ramen is open Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. - 8 p.m., and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. Maybe. If you're lucky.

Momiji Ramen is worth a visit, although it’s a good idea to have a “Plan B.” It took me three attempts to finally pick a night when the hours listed on the door matched up with an open sign in the window. There’s no working phone number to call ahead. And despite having been occasionally in business for over a year, you’ll need to bring some greenbacks to buy a meal at this cash-only enterprise.

Despite the hurdles, my wife and I were happy to see an open sign on our charmed third attempt. The atmosphere is understated and pleasant with lots of bamboo and seating for 20. Asian movies display on the TV without dubbing or subtitles, perhaps as a nod to fellow expatriates. The menu is simple, featuring a handful of ramen and udon noodle soups as well as a couple of rice bowls and cold noodle dishes. Extra toppings can be added to any dish at additional cost. A short list of fairly standard appetizers are available (edamame, gyoza, etc.), and beverages consist of domestic and imported soft drinks.

I started with a takoyaki (fried octopus) appetizer special—a wheat-based dumpling filled with diced octopus and scallion, and topped with sauce and aonori (a dried, powdered seaweed used as seasoning)—seemingly a heck of a deal at $3 for six pieces. A popular Japanese street food I hadn’t yet seen in Reno, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. The exterior is supposed to be a bit crispy containing a volcanically gooey center. There was nothing crispy about these dough balls, though they were definitely hot as Hades. The seafood was roughly chopped rather than diced (three-inch pieces) and extremely overcooked and chewy. I didn’t care for them, but my wife said they tasted like mashed potatoes. She particularly enjoyed the Bull-Dog sauce, a popular brand of sweet and savory goo sometimes known as Japanese “Worcestershire-style sauce.”

My wife then surprised me by ordering a white fried fish appetizer ($2.50), which turned out to be pretty much as I’d expected: breaded fish sticks. I can’t say they were much different from those you’ll find in a supermarket freezer case, but my wife enjoyed dipping them in Bull-Dog sauce. I definitely have to get a bottle of that stuff for her to have at home.

We ordered our soups straight from the menu without additions. My bowl of tonkotsu ramen ($8) was full of the rich, pork flavor you’d expect from a long-stewed bone stock, and the included scallion and bean sprouts did a good job enhancing flavor and texture. The noodles were perfect, possessing the right amount of chew without being too firm. Although fall-apart tender and delicious, the lone, thin slice of chashu pork floating on top was a disappointment. Perhaps they were running out and had to ration it? Half of a hard-boiled egg included in the bowl was also disappointing. The traditional marinated, soft-boiled ajitsuke tamago adds so much to the dish, I really missed its absence and could have done without the bland substitute.

My wife’s miso ramen was bolder, unsurprising given the amount of soy sauce involved ($8.25). Still, there were subtle vegetable and herbal notes amongst all the umami. The same noodles, egg, and forlorn slice of pork were included, so I guess the extra two bits on price was due to a quarter cup of sweet corn kernels. My wife enjoyed her soup but said it was too salty to finish.

Although not perfect, I enjoyed the overall experience. My soup was delicious, and the portions of everything were huge for the money, despite the paucity of pork. If they could keep to their stated schedule and give a little on the meat portions, I’ll gladly stop by the ATM on my way for another bowl.