(Formatted with All Pictures here:
"Living the dream."
In a region where millions struggle to attain their aspirations, it's always amazing to hear when people achieve their dreams. And for those of us that love to eat, it's even more cause for celebration when some of those dreams realized are from dedicated, talented Chefs who want nothing more than to cook great food and call Southern California "home": In the past few years alone, we've been blessed with not one, but two Yakitori masters, a wonderful Oden expert, and a legend in the Ramen world in Japan, amongst many others. And now, we're seeing the realization of another dream, already bearing fruit in the form of 3 distinctive, excellent types of Ramen at Ramen Mottainai.
Thanks to the excellent review from our Ramen guru, Rameniac, I wrangled one of my Ramen Hounds and dashed off to Mottainai. :) Mottainai is helmed by Chef Tadanori Akasaka and General Manager Nobuaki Ishiai. Self-professed Ramen devotees, they both came to the same conclusion years ago when they first visited Southern California: It's a great place they hoped one day to move to, and open up a Ramen shop dedicated to delivering fresh, handmade Ramen Noodles and Soup to match the level of excellence in Japan.
Mottainai occupies a nondescript corner of the Marukai Market plaza (there's no sign installed yet, so be on the lookout for their Noren until then). Upon entering, we're greeted warmly by the waitstaff. They have a simple, handsome Ramen counter (able to seat up to 10 people) with a few tables on the side.
Looking at their menu, they focus on 3 very distinctive styles of Ramen (which may seem sparse to some, but in reality it's a challenge for most Ramen masters to perfect), with a variety of toppings and a couple side dishes. I was a bit worried at first, until I realized that this was a reflection of Tadanori-san's growth and experience as a Ramen Chef: Tadanori-san was born in Sapporo, Japan, birthplace of the legendary Sapporo Miso-style Ramen Noodle Soup. Learning and cooking Ramen since he was 15 years old(!), he later moved to Tokyo to continue growing, hence the "Tokyo Props" Shoyu Ramen on the menu. And finally, he moved to Yokohama where he learned and developed his own version of their famous Ie-kei Ramen, represented on the menu as "Yokohama Freaker" Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen. :)
You're even treated to a cute fable (created by the staff) to explain the concept of "Mottainai" (which roughly means ~"what a waste" / "such a shame [something's] wasted"). For Tadanori-san, he calls the restaurant this because the basis of his Ramen Soups are what many people take for granted and throw away: Chicken and Pork Bones.
Starting at the top, I begin with their "Tokyo Props" Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce-Based Ramen Noodle Soup).
I take a sip: Light, balanced, delicate Shoyu (Soy Sauce) flavors intermingle with their homemade Broth of Torigara (Chicken Bones), Niboshi (Baby Sardines) and Saba (Mackerel). It may not topple Tokyo's best, but it's now my favorite Shoyu Ramen in Southern California. (^_^)
(Note: Tadanori-san does *not* add MSG to any of his offerings (yay! :). There may be trace amounts in the Soy Sauce used, but nothing outside of that.)
The Noodles are where the dream is currently stalled at: Mottainai is using outsourced Noodles (as do pretty much all the big Ramen shops in So Cal), but only until they get the permits and clearance for their very own Noodle-making equipment (currently being processed). They hope to get clearance by September.
But even with outsourced Noodles, Chef Tadanori has chosen an excellent, thin, straight Noodle with a nice chew, which matches his Tokyo-style Shoyu Ramen quite well.
Their Chashu (Roasted Pork Slices) taste fresh (another victory for So Cal Ramen where the majority of places make huge batches to last throughout the week) and meaty. While it is bright, the problem is that they are a touch too chewy at times (needing another hour or two of slow-roasting to soften the Pork a bit more).
And their Menma (Bamboo Shoots) are on the sweet side (which I prefer), with a lot less pungency than most offerings.
Our order of Gyoza (Pan Fried-Steamed Dumplings) arrive next.
Their Gyoza are handmade and have a great crust: Very delicate with a thin crunch. The filling is a bit too finely shredded for my tastes, but as a classic accompaniment with Ramen, this is quite satisfying. :)
Next up is Tadanori-san's representation of his time in Yokohama: "Yokohama Freaker" Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen (Pork Bone and Soy Sauce-Based Ramen Noodle Soup).
Santouka fans should be aware that this is not the same Asahikawa-style of Ramen like Santouka's similarly named dish. This is unabashedly Ie-kei style of Ramen, reflective of Tadanori-san's interpretation of the creation by Yoshimura-ya in Yokohama.
I'm not a fan of Ie-kei style in general, but I'm impressed by Tadanori-san's execution: It's a milder version of what you might expect from a pure Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Broth, but it still retains a distinct porcine funkiness, balanced by the Shoyu. There's also the signature Chiyu (Chicken Oil) which takes this bowl to another plane, different from the more commonly found Tonkotsu Shoyu blends locally.
Finally, Tadanori-san pairs this Tonkotsu Shoyu with a thicker Noodle, closer to Udon than the usual Ramen Noodles you might expect.
Perhaps the funnest items on the menu are their Majikku Bomu ("Magic Bombs"), which are little side dishes you can order to enhance your Ramen Noodle experience. Their Red Bomb is a house-made Chili Paste Blend.
When paired with their straight Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen, it doesn't really add too much except a mild heat. It feels like it clashes a little, but Chili Heads would probably love adding this to all flavors. (^_~)
But when paired with their Yokohama Freaker Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, it adds just the right level of burn that really complements each slurp. You get a bit of the porkiness that just feels right with some heat. :)
But if there's only one Magic Bomb you can try, then go for their Shiro (White Bomb), a globe of Pork Back Fat and Garlic! :)
Adding this to the pure Shoyu Ramen is pure magic! There's this sexy, lip-smacking facet with fragrant undertones of Garlic that elevate the Shoyu Ramen to new heights! Wow. (^_^) And it's not as overwhelming as, say, Daikokuya or Asa's Kotteri option where your bowl is covered in a sea of Pork Fatback. (^_~)
I try some with their Ie-kei Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen and it's decent, but I think the amount of Chiyu and inherent porkiness makes this addition less of a standout.
But it's the last Ramen dish that I'm most excited about: "Sapporo Lover" Miso Ramen (Miso-Based Ramen Noodle Soup).
Finding a great Sapporo-style Miso Ramen in L.A. has been non-existent for a while, so I'm eager to see how Tadanori-san's version turns out. I'm excited to see Tadanori-san prepare this dish: It's actually a Kogashi Miso style (Burnt / Wok-Fired) to add a different flavor profile.
And to really make sure I get the full Sapporo experience, I order it with their "Type 1 Magic Alpha" Bomb option: Morokoshi Bata- (Stir Fried Corn and Butter). :)
The first sip is outstanding! :) Tadanori-san spent years perfecting a blend of 4 types of Miso for his Miso Ramen and it shows. It's surprisingly balanced and nuanced, with different aspects of the 4 types of Miso hitting your palate, but never overpowering your senses. The Marinated Ground Pork, Moyashi (Bean Sprouts) and Corn all work well together. The Butter is subtle and adds this luxurious quality, but it's very well integrated, without you feeling like it's an extraneous addition. While I still prefer the legendary Sumire's Miso Ramen, this is an excellent offering and the best Miso Ramen in So Cal. :)
They use the same thicker Noodle option as their Tonkotsu Shoyu, which are a decent match, but I'm waiting to see what they can do once they get their equipment cleared.
Their Tamago (Egg) option is not quite the heavenly level of the great Hanjyuku Tamago (Flash Boiled Egg) offerings throughout Japan, but it'll suffice. Hopefully in the coming months, they can perfect this.
For $1.50 more, you can add a Mini Salad and Onigiri Set to any of the Ramen.
The Mini Salad is fine (a standard Mixed Greens Side Salad), but it's their Shio Onigiri (Rice Ball with Salt) that's really natsukashii (nostalgic) for me. :) For those that didn't grow up eating plain Onigiri, it should be noted that this is what it looks like it is: Steamed Rice, seasoned with a bit of Salt and pressed into a ball-like shape with some Nori (Seaweed). This is the plain variety and it's a bit spartan and boring compared to the fancier versions seen locally (like Yaki Onigiri (Grilled), or with Sake (Salmon), etc.). But it's a decent Onigiri that fills a craving if you're in the mood for this traditional offering. :)
Service has been excellent (despite it being only open for a week or two). In each of my visits, the waitstaff has been friendly and prompt. Prices range from $6.95 - $7.80 for Ramen, with Toppings ranging from $1 - $2. Side dishes range from $1.95 - $4.95.
Ramen Mottainai has made a brilliant splash on the Southern California Ramen landscape. With a delicate "Tokyo Props" Shoyu (Soy Sauce) Ramen, a very respectable "Yokohama Freakers" Tonkotsu Shoyu (Pork Bone, Soy Sauce) Ramen in the underrepresented Ie-kei style, and the vibrant, balanced "Sapporo Lover" Miso Ramen, Mottainai has a menu that already tops most Ramen offerings locally. Be sure to add the appropriate "Magic Bomb" to elevate your Ramen even further, and sit back and enjoy. :) While their Noodles and Chashu can use some work, I can't even imagine what Autumn is going to be like, when they get clearance for their Noodle-making equipment. Imagine the first top-class So Cal Ramen-ya with Teuchi (Handmade) Ramen Noodles, made fresh every morning! I can't wait! (^_^)
*** Rating: 8.1 (out of 10.0) ***
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Suite 9
Gardena, CA 90247
Tel: (310) 538-3233
(Note: They had a misprint with their Business Cards so most posts out there mistakenly list their Fax # as their Telephone #. Correct Phone Number is listed here.)
Hours: [Lunch] Wed - Mon, 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
[Dinner] Wed - Mon, 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Suite #9, Gardena, CA 90247