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Shoyu Ramen @ Norikonoko, Berkeley


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Shoyu Ramen @ Norikonoko, Berkeley

Melanie Wong | | Jun 12, 2005 02:41 PM

Sliding open the shoji to step in from the courtyard, my first impression was that I would find a welcoming, homey and traditional experience. All came true, plus the ramen was good too.

I ordered the chashu shoyu ramen with gyoza. Miso-flavored is also available. From the robata grill section of the menu, I tried salt chicken skewers too. Sitting at the counter, I got to watch my food being prepared at the grill and stove.

The gyoza were served already dressed with a ponzu-like sauce and some fine strips of red pickled ginger that went really well with the flavor of the dumplings. Well-cooked to a crunchy brown, these juicy gyoza were some of the best ones I've had with fresh-tasting ground pork and well-balanced seasonings. The yakitori (grilled chicken) was okay, but not special.

This ramen was unusual in possessing a rare quality not found in many examples I've tried to date --- finesse. It was also the most greaseless with just a few beads of oil floating on the surface and a micron-thin layer of browned fat rimming the pork slices. The mild shoyu stock was well-salted but not as salty as most and was more akin in its subtlety to a lighter dashi used for udon. Rather than being the dominant flavor, the taste of shoyu settled into the background but still played an important part in knitting together the other elements. Ordered "hard", the thin, fresh noodles were straight and had a slippery texture and firmly chewy bite. They soaked up the flavor of the stock nicely. The toppings was placed in exacting proportions. Against the backdrop of the subtle stock, the faint sweetness of the marinated bamboo shoots, fresh flavor of the compressed spinach leaves, chopped green onions, richness of the hard-cooked egg, mild crab-like taste of the fish cake, and the ginger nuance of the roast pork could each shine through directly. In other cases, I have preferred the richer flavor and tenderness of well-marbled pork. Here the small core of tenderloin only is used, and while lean, it is soft and tender with a gentle meatiness in harmony with the personality of this carefully assembled bowl. The slices were faintly pink when presented, completing their cooking in the hot stock, and consequently stayed juicy and didn't dry out.

When the sweet woman behind the counter asked me if things were okay, I raved about the quality of the pork tenderloin, the perfect texture of the spinach, and the amount of care placed in a simple bowl of noodles. She said she was pleased that I'd noticed as they roast the meat themselves. She added that they do not compromise and try to continue the traditional flavor they grew up with at home.

Norikonoko Japanese Restaurant
2556 Telegraph Ave.
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays


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