[Full-size photos, with captions, at http://theoffalo.com/2013/03/kotoya-v...]
I finally tried Kotoya this Monday, and then went back to Ramen Hayatemaru (twice) this week, so I thought it’d be fun to do a quick “showdown” between the two newcomers to the Westside ramen scene. This won’t be an apples-to-apples comparison, as I did not order all the same dishes. My goal here mostly just to play with the standard review format for a post and have some fun!
First, a quick (alas non-photographic) comparison of some of the non-food factors...
Decor @ Kotoya: I really like the more contemporary design of the restaurant. The small cast-iron lanterns overhanging the bar were a classy touch. The wood tile-work on the walls were interesting but not distracting. The bathroom looked newly remodeled and had that more upscale glass-bowl-on-counter type of sink.
Decor @ Hayatemaru: As I mentioned in my last review, the restaurant was very clean, but did not look to be fully renovated before its grand opening. The drop ceiling was a bit dingy from age, where a somewhat rusty air vent conspicuously stuck out. Bathroom, also very clean, with a pleasant pump-bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s hand soap, but definitely not remodeled.
>>> Decor Winner: Kotoya!
Service @ Kotoya: The lone waitress at lunch time seemed a bit distracted and overworked. The food was a little slow coming out of the kitchen, but the chef was solo as well, and never stopped moving. The gyoza I ordered took quite a long time and arrived after I had finished my ramen.
The restaurant was at 75%-90% capacity while I was there, which was maybe unanticipated for a Monday at lunch (I don’t know), but they definitely could have used one more body each at the front and at the back of the shop that day.
Service @ Hayatemaru: Did I mention this was an apples-to-oranges showdown? My first trip to Hayatemaru this week was Monday evening, ~6:30 PM, rather than during the lunch rush. Two other tables were occupied, and the sole waitress, along with the chef and second kitchen worker, had no problems keeping up with the customers. Food came out at a decent pace. (Second visit was Tuesday ~7:45 PM and mirrored the first in service.)
>>> Service Winner: Hayatemaru!
Now that that’s done, on to the food! Instead of comparing whole meal-to-meal, I’m going to go dish-to-dish, and actually ingredient-to-ingredient on some level. I only ordered ramen and gyoza at Kotoya, so I will only compare those to their equivalent that I had at Hayatemaru.
At Kotoya, I ordered the “white” ramen, which is the standard (non-spicy, which would have been the “red”) tonkotsu broth. It comes in one of three tare, or sauces: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (uh...miso--j/k, fermented soy bean paste). I opted for shio, and added on a nitamago (flavored egg), soft-boiled.
At Ramen Hayatemaru, I had already tried their “Hokkaido” (shio/tonkotsu) ramen on my first visit, so I opted for the white miso ramen on my second visit, as I had heard that miso was more authentic for Hokkaido-style ramen. I also added on an ajitsuke tamago, a.k.a. ajitama (seasoned egg, synonymous with nitamago), soft-boiled.
Toppings @ Kotoya: The toppings for the shio were fairly standard, nori (seaweed), negi (scallions), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), chashu (stewed pork), and the nitamago add-on. It did have one topping I’m not used to encountering on ramen, bean sprouts (raw). That may just be due to my limited exposure to various authentic styles of ramen, but it was something I took notice of.
The other thing I took notice of was how sweet the menma was. It wasn’t candy-sweet or anything, but it was sweet enough to my taste to be distracting. Luckily, the shio broth helped cut the sweetness a bit.
Toppings @ Hayatemaru: The toppings for the miso were also fairly standard, nori, negi, menma, chashu, the ajitama add-on, and raw bean sprouts again! This differed from the “Hokkaido” ramen I had previously, which included an ajitama (hard boiled, alas), and had shredded wood ear mushrooms instead of bean sprouts.
I didn’t note this in my first review of Hayatemaru, but I really enjoyed their menma. Their portions were generous, and it had a much subtler flavor than most menma I’ve had. I was pleased to discover on this visit that the menma was not a fluke the first time, as the bowl once again included generous portions of this very delicious topping.
>>> Toppings Winner: Hayatemaru!
Chashu @ Kotoya: The chashu was incredibly flavorful and tender. I saw the chef prepare the bowls of ramen, and after laying the delicate slices of pork down on top of the other toppings, he took two blowtorches, one in each hand, and gave the chashu just a bit of char, a really nice touch!
Chashu @ Hayatemaru: The chashu was definitely well made, but was not as fatty, and just a touch dry (could have just been the cut of pork I received). A good dunking in the broth fixed that right quick.
>>> Chashu Winner: Kotoya!
Nitamago @ Kotoya: The highlight of the bowl was the nitamago. The egg was served whole in the broth, and from the outside I couldn’t tell if it was hard boiled or soft boiled. When I took a bite, though, I could immediately taste the richness of the molten egg yolk. Looking at the now exposed yolk, it had that deep amber-gold color and was the quintessential hanjuku (half-cooked) egg. I complimented the chef on it, who was very appreciative of my taking note of its preparation, which he said is very difficult to execute successfully, especially when cooking a large batch of them.
Ajitama @ Hayatemaru: The ajitama was brought out separately from the bowl, cut in half, with the gel-like yolk in full display. Maybe it was just a trick of the eye, but the yolk looked kind of small. It was just a touch runny, which I don’t mind personally, but didn’t quite have that deep gold color and rich texture I was expecting.
>>> Hanjuku Winner: Kotoya!
Soup Base @ Kotoya: I’m no ramen expert, so I can only compare the shio to the few others I’ve had, at Santouka, Hayatemaru, Ajisen (*shudder*), and Kotoya’s is probably just below Santouka’s, around the same neighborhood as Hayatemaru’s. All of them just blow Ajisen’s soup base out of the water (no pun intended), but this isn’t a review of Ajisen, so I’ll digress...
Soup Base @ Hayatemaru: I like misoshiru, but I guess I don’t like miso broth in my ramen as much. I know it’s just a personal preference, because the miso broth was objectively quite good, but I just prefer the “cleaner” taste of the shio. I haven’t found a shoyu broth that I’ve liked more than shio either, so it’s not just miso.
>>> Soup Base Winner: Kotoya!
>>>>> Overall Ramen Winner: Kotoya!
Once again I’ll reiterate that this is not an apples-to-apples showdown, and it’s not even necessarily a fair apples-to-oranges comparison, considering my general preference for shio ramen, though obviously I am willing to keep trying miso and shoyu ramen until I find one I really like.
As far as which would win between Kotoya’s shio and Hayatemaru’s shio, I think it’d be close. Kotoya’s menma was a strike against it, while Hayatemaru’s was a big plus, but the trump card may be Kotoya’s hanjuku nitamago. Maybe if I’m up for it, after the sodium content in my blood drops to normal levels, I’ll do a more fair showdown between the two shio in the near future.
Oops, I forgot to write up the goyza comparison , and I’m too lazy to do it now, so...TL;DR: Hayatemaru’s gyoza wins!
Hayatemaru's were actually even better on my second visit, with the same great thin and crisp skin, and the filling was much juicier and a little looser, not as packed together.
Kotoya’s gyoza skins are thin and crisp as well, but the filling had a little too much black pepper for my taste (you could actually see the black pepper flakes peppering--pun intended--the filling). They were also rather large--not a good or bad thing, but funny; if I recall correctly, the menu had a size adjective attached to the description: giant, jumbo, something like that...
[Pics below are grouped by restaurant, with Kotoya first, followed by Hayatemaru.]