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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari Ramen, San Mateo

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Tonkotsu Ramen @ Himawari Ramen, San Mateo

Melanie Wong | May 5, 2005 04:15 AM

William joined me for a return to Himawari in San Mateo last week. The number of ramen choices and appetizers has been expanded with former “specials” now earning a permanent place on the dinner menu.

I wanted to order Himawari’s gyoza and/or kara-age, standards that we’ve been trying at other ramen houses. But my brother could not be dissuaded from ordering the buta kakuni again. When it was presented, William said, “I don’t remember it being so pretty before.” And pretty it was, stacked up in a mini pyramid and garnished whimsically with slivers of red onion and chopped scallions.

Not wanting a second fried apetizer, we ordered the braised shrimp and tofu. Somehow I wasn’t expecting a dish of something that looked like it should be a main dish served with a bowl of steamed rice. Though unappetizer-like to my way of thinking, it was awfully good. Silky blocks of soft tofu combined with tender prawns with a whisper of a starchy crust sealed at high heat in a rich brothy sauce. I swear I tasted pork fat in the sauce, in fact, its richness reminded me of the tonkotsu stock and probably shared the same base.

William ordered the miso again, this time with the corn kernels and butter suggested on the menu as showing this stock at its best. The pancake house style scoop of whipped butter floating on top tickled both of us when the bowl was served. It came out first, and after waiting a bit for mine, I urged my brother to go ahead and eat his. He said, “sure, excuse me while I butter my corn”, as he spooned up the half-melted butter and plopped it on the area topped with corn niblets. I didn’t like the miso as much as the first time; it seemed unnecessarily thick and overconcentrated. Still, the complexity of the flavors was awe-inspiring.

I had the tonkotsu ramen in the deluxe version that includes a deliciously seasoned soft-boiled egg, chunks of the splendiferous stewed pork belly and some other treats. The broth was insanely concentrated, gravy-like, and rich with fat, gelatin and collagen. My brother described it as “pork jello in the making”. I’d have to amend that after the leftover broth spent the night in my refrigerator: it’s more like a porcine version of demi-glace, setting up hard and much firmer than jello. Despite this supersaturation and uberconcentration, the monotonal pork bone broth had one and only one loud and flat note. Pretty blah. It showed best with a bit of the pickled ginger or the preserved veggies in a spoonful to add a flavor spark and relied on those contrasts to be at all interesting. When I ran out of those, I added some of the red pepper from the table shaker to wake up the stock’s flavor. Surprisingly, this stock was not very salty either.

The tender roast pork, nicely marbled and sliced thinly, was even better this time. The noodles seemed finer and softer this go-round. William commented that Himawari could clean up and give Halu and Santa a run for top honors if it would improve the noodles. The lighter stocks here seemed better crafted than the heavier styles to me. We both like the appetizers here very much, these guys really know how to cook. Himawari holds onto its fourth place spot in the ramen rankings.

PERSONAL RAMEN RANKINGS

1. Ramen Halu, San Jose
2. Santa, San Mateo
3. Ryowa, Berkeley
4. Himawari, San Mateo
5. Ryowa, Mountain View
6. Maru Ichi, Mountain View
7. Tanto, Sunnyvale
8. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, San Jose
9. Gen Ramen, Fremont
10.BY Grill, San Francisco
11.Masa’s Sushi, Mountain View
12.Oyaji, San Francisco
13.Maru Ichi, Milpitas
14.Tomoe, San Rafael
15.Ringer Hut, San Jose
16.Ogi-San Ramen, Cupertino
17.Kaimuki Grill, San Mateo
18.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), San Francisco
19.Ramen Club, Burlingame
20.King’s Garden Ramen, Newark
21.Sushi Bistro, San Francisco
22.Lakuni, San Mateo
23.Iroha, San Francisco
24.Manpuku, Berkeley
25.Tanpopo, San Francisco
26.Sushi Yoshi, Newark
27.Suzu Noodle House, San Francisco
28.Oidon, San Mateo
29.Katanaya, El Cerrito
30.Sapporo-ya, San Francisco
31.Tokyo Ramen, Milpitas
32.Hotei, San Francisco
33.Bear’s Ramen House, Berkeley

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