Random acts of ramen

Bowl & Ramen

2560 Alta Arden Expressway

(916) 487-2694

Randomness can yield wonderful rewards. Some of the most memorable meals have come from chance, fluke or impulse. For example, lunching at Lalo’s Restaurant, located near Hollywood Park, and dining with someone who grew up in Mexico’s Distrito Federal and exploded with enthusiasm over the authenticity of the small eatery’s fare. Or, turning off Watt Avenue in North Highlands and discovering Las Islitas.

Now comes Bowl & Ramen on Alta Arden Expressway, across the street from Target—a prime locale for undeservedly unsung restaurants.

Bowl & Ramen shares a bathroom with Mana Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, the venerable Japanese restaurant, and is within walking distance from Palenque Cocina Mexicana, with its lard-free Yucatan cuisine and citrusy habanero salsa.

Like Las Islitas, Bowl & Ramen blips onto the radar screen while searching for another restaurant—that which is immediately forgotten by the novelty of catching sight of a Korean restaurant not located in the vicinity of Folsom Boulevard, Bradshaw Road and La Riviera Drive.

The chief reason the eatery opened 10 months ago at this location is that it’s under the same ownership as Mana. This may explain the miso soup, not a common occurrence in other Korean joints, which is proffered here along with the eight banchan dishes.

Here, prices are comparable, perhaps even slightly cheaper, than other Korean places in town. The staff is friendly and eager to initiate the uninitiated on the unique joys of Korean cuisine. For the less intrepid and the spice adverse, there’s the second half of Bowl & Ramen’s name. Not surprisingly, daughter Katie, who considers blandness to be the shiz, heads straight to the nine ramen options.

Ramen with dumplings? Rice cake? Seafood? Cold buckwheat noodles? Potato noodles? Heavens, no—the weirdness potential is too high. Ramen with beef, however, gets the nod and comes served with a rich, evocative broth and noodles longer than the beards of those guys in ZZ Top. In this case, bland is beautiful.

As to the banchan, which the menu refers to as “seasonal side dishes,” they vary, but center on the usual suspects: Kimchi, pickled daikon and carrot slivers, mounds of vinegary spinach, fish that looks like noodles and tastes like coleslaw, and broccoli in sesame oil that despite being the B-word is voraciously consumed. (Possibly a first.)

On one visit, there’s a mayonnaisey tuna salad with red onion that, in the sometime-heat of Korean cooking, represents a fishy sorbet. The bulgogi and the galbi—stir-fried beef and beef ribs—sizzle on an iron skillet and, despite their thinness, are neither charred nor underdone.

If not a believer in the miracle of sundubu, Bowl & Ramen offers conversion. This unique tofu stew has mushrooms, veggies, onions and an egg on top, but simply reciting the ingredients doesn’t do the combination justice. Just try it. It’s part of the large jjigae family of stews, which is the communal dish served at the center of large group tables in Korean restaurants. Here, the bibimbap is presented in an artful way. This classic rice dish is usually served in an iron bowl with any number of additions to the rice and then topped with a fried egg. The haemul dolsot-bibimbap, with its bits of chewy squid and shrimp, comes in a large bowl. The waitress asks how much pepper sauce is desired, and then proceeds to glug a hefty swirl from a plastic ketchup squeegee around the rice mixture’s apex. Then she stirs—it’s like the Korean equivalent of some tuxedoed guy flaming the cherries jubilee tableside. Then the rice sizzles and crackles, and 15 minutes into eating the dish, an errant brush of the finger against the side of the bowl still burns. Also: Among the bibimbap’s vegetables are small cubes of zucchini that appear out of place but artfully augment the other flavors.

Ah, the rewards of randomness.