Dreaming of bibimbap
Ramen & Rice
When you go to an Asian restaurant and there are two different varieties of food on the menu—a common example would be Chinese dishes on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant—it’s best to order the cuisine which the restaurant specializes in. Just because the place threw some sweet-and-sour pork in there along with the pho doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to order.
At Ramen & Rice, a ramen restaurant that also makes Korean dishes, this is also true. In this case, though, it’s best to stick to the Korean dishes, although the name doesn’t make that immediately obvious.
Ramen & Rice has been open about a year in the Arden Arcade area. It’s located in a strip mall, which pretty much goes without saying in that area, but the owners have made the small space welcoming, with red lanterns hanging over the open kitchen and high-backed, sturdy wooden chairs. The cozy size also lends to the pleasant atmosphere. On my second visit, all of the eatery’s tables were full, and we had to sit at the bar, which made for a fun change. The service here is excellent, and the server made sure to take us from the bar to a table as soon as one opened up.
On the Korean side, the bibimbap restored my faith in the dish, which I had recently sworn off. Typically, this is never as good as I want it to be, and I can never put my finger on why. Order it with the brown rice, which imparts a delightful nutty flavor. The sliced mushrooms add to the umami of this dish, and the shoyu, mustard and spicy sauces that come on the side should all be used liberally. The final bites are the best—the rice gets crispy at the bottom of the sizzling bowl. Why can’t I order a bowl of just that?
A side of kimchee was served lightly spicy, and a steaming platter of bulgogi arrived sweet and tender.
Besides the bulgogi, I also sampled the chicken in a couple of other dishes. Here, the chicken is served as unremarkable dark-meat chunks, but meat is very easily avoided at Ramen & Rice. Rather, it emphasizes the healthful aspect of its dishes, and tofu can be substituted for any meat, as can vegetarian broth in most of the soups. I certainly did not miss the meat in the bibimbap.
On the Japanese side of the menu, the ramen broth in all the bowls I tried lacked the rich, salinated quality that I crave. The server informed me that the springy noodles are made for the restaurant by a “Japanese couple.” The chashu was lean and lacked succulence, while the hardboiled egg was served overcooked with an ugly green yolk.
I’ve had Japanese curry, but never Japanese curry ramen, and the steaming bowl here proved welcoming on one of the region’s first chilly fall days. The curry sauce (it’s really too thick to call a broth) boasted a comforting flavor, and, unusually, a bit of spice, but the liquid continued to cook the noodles until they were a gummy mess. I had added gyoza on top for $2—the fine chopped pork and chives were encased in a slippery wrapper and were obviously made fresh at the restaurant. I will be ordering these as a side in the future.
And there will be a future. Both of my dining companions said they will be dreaming about that bibimbap, and here, stuck at my desk, I’m thinking about it (and the gyoza), too.