Hello again! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? We apologize for the extended gap since our last post. Much has happened since our last ramen quest. Marion went home to Korea for a few months to be with her family. She also changed her name to Sophia. Welcome back, Sophia! Now that she’s back and settled in we decided to continue our adventures by going to Ramen Lab, a place we had always wanted to visit.
The concept behind Ramen Lab is really cool and innovative. It’s a kitchen space owned and operated by Sun Noodle, the noodle mastermind behind many of New York City’s ramen restaurants. The basic idea is that Ramen Lab curates the space with a changing cast of ramen eateries for short amounts of time. Each ramen shop sends a small crew of workers as their representatives. They can structure their menu however they desire, but most places have opted for a simple approach, offering only a few varieties of bowls. This allows them to showcase their best bowls to help increase exposure, recognition, and business. This business model benefits both customers and Sun Noodle because there is a steady stream of interest and diners since the menu is regularly changing. If you are interested in going to Ramen Lab, we highly advise looking at the online menu ahead of time before you go to avoid any surprises (though the selection is always excellent).
The Lab’s set up is basic. You stand for the duration of your meal at the bar, a format that is more often seen in Asian countries. This allows you to see the kitchen and the people who are cooking your food. It balances intimacy that could be overwhelming with a casual, relaxed atmosphere. You feel like you can have a conversation with the person preparing your noodles. The food preparation process is made transparent. However, the space can feel a little bit too cramped. I wish that there was an extra foot or two of clearance between you and the back wall so that other customers didn’t have to squeeze by you. We were lucky because we went on the early side so there were fewer customers. However during very busy hours, it can interrupt your meal to have to constantly move for those sliding past you.
The restaurant we were able to experience at Ramen Lab was called Shoki Ramen House Under the direction of Chef Yasushi Ueyama, the Sacramento-based restaurant’s ramen is aimed at making healthy ramen using the chef’s original recipe that contains no MSG or preservatives. His broths are cooked differently than the standard meat broth. Instead, the broths are either made of a combination of seafood items or vegetables. Also, you have four options for noodles including a gluten-free version. Each bowl is created for you personally so that you can enjoy your “Bowl of Dreams.”
Their staff was friendly and welcoming. The host was a really nice, enthusiastic young boy who took the orders and provided information about the various bowls. The food came quickly but it did not feel too rushed, which was a plus. Out of the numerous options, Sophia and I ordered the special Tomato Ramen and the Tan Tan Tsukemen, respectively. They were both quite remarkable. Sophia’s tomato-flavored bowl tasted light and refreshing – perfect for the hot summer. The broth was definitely thinner and not fatty, but still packed a significant punch of tomato flavor. The toppings included fresh vegetables (including chopped tomatoes), menma, nori, a poached egg, and a slice of chashu. It reminded us of the taste of a slice of margherita pizza. Don’t worry, we both agree that sounds weird and potentially gross, but the ramen balanced that specific flavor perfectly. It was truly a unique item – I mean how many tomato-flavored bowls of noodles have you seen at ramen places? Both of us were really impressed at the creativity and execution of this dish.
The Special: Tomato Ramen
The Tan Tan Tsukemen was also very impressive. It wasn’t overly heavy, which can sometimes be an issue with this type of ramen. The dipping sauce was rich and balanced with a terrific burst of sesame flavor. There were coarsely pureed sesame seeds that floated on top of the tare sauce that would coat each noodle when it was dipped and pulled out. It provided a really nice textural experience when contrasted with the softer noodle and fresh vegetables that topped it.
Tan Tan Tsukemen
Sophia and I both agreed that the noodles were a defining feature of both bowls. They were excellent. Both of us selected the thick noodles. They were springy and chewy, and not a second overcooked, which is something we’ve encountered at other places. Obviously when eating a bowl of ramen, the noodles should stand out and they nailed it.
Overall, our experience at Ramen Lab was very good. The food and service impressed us – both bowls were delicious. The noodles were expertly cooked. The downside for me was the space itself, which can be somewhat awkward when it’s busy. While Shoki Ramen House has vacated Ramen Lab now, we recommend you check them out at their locations in Sacramento, California. We give Ramen Lab (Shoki Ramen House Edition) four stars out of five.