The tiny little restaurant
Shoki Ramen House2675 24th St.
Sacramento, CA 95818
When I passed by Shoki Ramen House, in an unlikely Curtis Park location, I was reminded of a book I had as a kid, called The Tiny Little House. In it, the titular, tiny, little house, a lonely victim of its urban surroundings, is saved when two girls encourage an elderly lady to open a cookie shop there. I somehow doubt that Shoki Ramen House’s back-story features a fearsome landlord or small girls promoting the virtues of baking, but, in its petiteness and emphasis on the handmade, it has a similar vibe: The little noodle shop that could, if you will.
Maybe I thought of children’s stories because of its small size, or maybe because inside it’s quietly decorated but ever so slightly fanciful: A flock of painted birds flies on the ceiling, for instance, and on the night we were there (early—we caught a popular dinner hour for neighborhood families), the music was mostly Disney tunes. If that all sounds tooth-achingly sweet, don’t worry. They’ve got a liquor license, and your Asahi Dark (or, um, light; there are only the two choices for the beer thus far). Another drink option is an extremely perplexing (to us) Japanese soda, Ramune, which comes with pictorial instructions for opening; basically, the glass bottle has a marble stopper, and you bang on it with the plastic top. The server had to come over and show us. Inside, the orange soda (there are other flavors, too) was, well, orange soda, but the bottle was very cool.
Shoki Ramen House is new this summer, but it already has the air of a place that’s been around a while, with regulars and an entrenched neighborhood-secret kind of feel. They give pride of place on the menu, as the restaurant’s name implies, to ramen: homemade, yellow, crinkled, resilient and long. Mostly, the ramen comes in soup. You get a choice of broth, including shio (sea salt), shoyu (soy-sauce flavored), tantan men (spicy, with a soy-sauce base), and a couple of others, and your soup—small, medium, or large—comes with certain additions. You can add more things for a buck a pop, including bamboo shoots, half a boiled egg, nori, vegetables and shiitake. The menu also offers ramen tips (be sure to slurp) and a disquisition on their broth-making methods, which they say involves six hours of simmering, no MSG and the production of health-promoting collagen and linoleic acid.
Aside from the soups, you can also get cold ramen, which is what I chose; the night we went was extremely hot. There are salads, too, an insane bargain at just $4.50 for a giant plate of greens, chicken and miso dressing; a few very simple and minimalist sushi rolls; and similarly stripped-down appetizers: oshitashi (spinach with bonito flakes), edamame, tofu.
We started with a California roll, having overheard a takeout order-er praising the rolls as her favorite in town. They were small and restrained, with perfectly ripe avocado, faux crab and nothing else: no sauces, no squiggles, no spicy anything—and that in itself made them refreshing in this mayo-loving town of giant sushi concoctions. Meanwhile, our daughter was tackling a “mini-don”: rice topped with a sweet soy mixture and shredded, tender, long-cooked pork, plus a fine chiffonade of nori and thin slices of green onion. (The mini-dons are mostly served as adjuncts to combination meals of ramen plus dons.) I appreciated the modest artfulness of the presentation even on a kid’s dinner, and she appreciated the pearly rice and tasty sauce.
The kitchen’s approach to timing of food is a little bit casual, as is the restaurant as a whole. They send out what’s ready when it’s ready. First to arrive was my husband’s chicken salad, at $4.50, the bargain of the night. A big plate overflowing with greens, a pile of corn, cherry tomatoes and slices of moist white-meat chicken, it had a zingy, thick miso dressing. The dressing didn’t look very pretty (being a lumpy beige), but it had an almost sharp flavor. The cold ramen and a bowl of spicy tan men soup came out next. The cold ramen—stark in its simplicity—came with a spicy, sesame-scented, soy-murky broth, just warm, for dipping, and the slice of pork, the squeezed-dry boiled spinach, and bamboo shoots on the side. A bite at a time—or, for impatient eaters, more than that—you dumped them in the broth and got a bit of spice, a bit of salt, and a lot of resilient, delicious noodle in each bite.
The big bowl of tantan men soup, with ground pork and lots of spicy broth in addition to add-ins of spinach, shiitakes, and sliced pork, packed a mild punch with its spiciness (you can ask for it hotter, ranging from mild to “super spicy”). I liked the meatiness the ground pork added to the broth, and the noodles were just as good here.
At the end of the meal, one of the servers offered us a pack of colorful Japanese candy (some pretty good fruit chews), since we had a kid along. While they don’t offer other dessert options, we were sated by the broth, the noodles and the quiet show from the open kitchen. We’ll be back.