Rah rah ramen
In my Boy Scout days, instant ramen noodles were a staple of camping trips—lightweight, filling, cheap and easy to prepare. However, in Japan every region has its own version of ramen soup, none of which resemble the brick o’ dry noodles and salt packet found in every American dorm room. Gaman Ramen’s goal is to bring an authentic, contemporary ramen experience to Reno, and though I’ve never been to the land of the rising sun, I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job.
With only 18-20 seats and dinner served for just 20 hours of the week, don’t plan on bringing the whole family for hours. You may need to wait a bit to get a table, but the friendly and efficient staff do a good job of turning tables without making you feel rushed or unwelcome. The decor is spartan-yet-tasteful, the earthenware bowls are handcrafted by one of the owners, and everything that can be is made in-house. We started with lotus chips ($3), thin slices of fried lotus root, that were lightly salted and deliciously crispy.
Three varieties of ramen are served ($8), all including locally grown pea shoots, nori, sliced radish, spring onion and egg/wheat noodles. (Gluten-free vegan noodles are available for an additional dollar.) I chose Tonkotsu, a rich pork stock simmered for several hours and served with pork belly. Additional toppings are available, and I selected vegetables ($2), hon shimeji mushrooms ($1), and an organic, seasoned soft-boiled egg ($1). My wife selected Shio, a delicate chicken and dashi broth served with thin-sliced, house-smoked duck breast (no extras). A miso ramen is also available (soy/veggie).
Hot sauce and chili oil are included, but if you really want to kick up the spice, I recommend adding the condiment box ($2). The broth was great on its own, but the addition of housemade black garlic oil, hot sauce, pickled ginger, and togarashi—a Japanese blend of seven spices—made things even more interesting. Order a box to share with the table, and you get complimentary refills. I enjoyed all four items, but the black garlic oil and pickled ginger made it a “must order.”
My wife’s bowl of food was pretty tasty, and she was very happy with it. My meal was sublime. The noodles were al dente, the broth was the definition of umami, and man, did I love the extras. The extra veg added a lot of texture, the mushrooms were unique and earthy, but that egg. Oh, that egg. The yolk was semi-jellied, and the seasoned albumen had its back. The dish was already delicious, but the egg’s rich flavor and texture sent it over the top.
How to top a simple-yet-superlative meal? Housemade dessert. My wife’s Meyer lemon sorbet was icy and tart, with just enough sweetness to hit the spot. Yet it was surpassed by a Genmai green tea ice cream that was nothing like I’ve had before. First, it wasn’t that food-coloring shade of green. Second, it actually tasted like tea. In fact, I’d say this ice cream tasted and smelled more of tea leaves than most pots of green tea I’ve been served. The nose on this dessert was a revelation.
To be honest, our experience wasn’t perfect. My Lucky Buddha lager ($4) was served at room temp, and when we entered a mostly-empty room, we were told to wait while the front window seat was bussed. I understand wanting to keep that showcase window occupied, but there were other tables available and making us wait made a poor first impression. Luckily, the quality of food and the rest of the service completely erased my initial irritation. You could could pay twice as much at Gaman Ramen and still feel like you got your money’s worth.