Use your noodles
My daughter has been staying with us for the holidays, so I’ve taken it upon myself to broaden her usual diet of potato chips and instant ramen. She’s a fan of real food but has been living on a shoestring budget, something I remember quite well from my own bachelor days. So it’s somewhat ironic I took her with me to try Minato Noodles, known for ramen and udon noodle dishes.
I started with a house salad of lettuce, carrot, red cabbage, sesame seeds and thin-sliced avocado, dressed with a housemade blend of soy sauce, vinegar, and a little hint of wasabi ($3). The rest of our appetizers arrived posthaste.
Takoyaki—my daughter’s favorite—is about the size of a golf ball, deep-fried in wheat flour batter with a gooey filling of tenkasu (tempura scraps), pickled ginger, scallion and chopped octopus, drizzled with Bull-Dog sauce and sprinkled with chopped scallion and smoked fish flakes ($3 for three pieces). The dried, thin bits of fish add a lot of umami to this Osaka street food favorite.
Also from the fryer were orders of chicken karaage and pork gyoza (both $3 for five pieces). The Japanese chicken nuggets and potstickers were crispy and tasty, though not as impressive as the octopus balls. Both were served with a soy and scallion dipping sauce.
My wife’s order of curry with chicken ($11.99) was something of a letdown. Unbeknownst to us, Japanese-style curry is nothing like the Indian and Southeast Asian varieties we know and love. The sauce is similar to brown gravy thickened with grated sweet potato, coating a blend of broccoli, mushroom, onion, cabbage, carrot and chicken. Being that she found the sauce to be pretty bland, my wife added soy sauce, chili oil, and Sriracha while making a mental note to order something different next time. A ball of steamed rice and a small salad are included on the plate. The salad with that zippy house-made dressing was her favorite part of the dish.
I made a similar goof in the opposite direction. Wanting to try something other than my favorite tonkatsu and miso bowls, I went with spicy sesame ramen noodles swimming in a mix of chili oil, sesame oil, snow pea, bean sprout, onion, scallion, fish flake, garlic, mushroom, bamboo shoot, hot chili powder, nori, sesame seed and a boiled egg half. Our server offered three levels of spice and I foolishly went with number three, being that I often enjoy Vietnamese and Thai food at their hottest levels. The subtle flavors of ramen broth—pork, beef, chicken—were completely lost in a three-alarm fire of chili. It wasn’t the hottest thing I’ve eaten, but felt like a real mismatch combined with all the other ingredients. If you’re feeling a bit stuffy, this dish will clear the ol’ sinuses right out.
More successful was an order of bulgogi donburi ($10.99), a popular Korean dish of marinated beef, onion, scallion, cabbage, and enokitake mushroom atop a bed of fluffy, steamed rice. The seasoning was both savory and lightly sweet, greatly enhanced by the delicate, earthy flavor of thread-like fungus. Though quite good as is, we did add a bit of soy sauce and enjoyed it all the more.
My daughter’s choice of fried rice with seafood was easily the best deal on the table, a generous helping of expertly cooked clam, octopus, shrimp, squid and mussel tossed with steamed-then-fried rice full of onion, scallion, mushroom, green bean, carrot and bell pepper ($7.99 and $2 more for seafood). Notable were the mollusks, with both squid and octopus cooked just tender and not rubbery. I’m lucky I got a taste as the hungry student wasted no time becoming one with her bowl of deliciousness.
With fast service and a menu full of Japanese and Korean options, Minato Noodles is a welcome addition to Reno’s burgeoning food scene.