Finally made it to Hakata Ramen - Shinsengumi for lunch.
First, the service. Unbelievable! If they were any more accomodating, they'd be spoon feeding me and wiping my mouth. The minute I stepped out of my car, a waiter held the door open and greeted me. As soon as I seated myself at the bar, a complimentary glass of iced tea arrived.
Throughout my meal, everyone working, from the two waiters to the two noodle jockeys, greeted every customer who entered with a hearty and sometimes a little too loud "Irashaimase!" Everyone working was probably in their twenties. One cook was particularly energetic, dancing and humming in tune to the piped-in hip hop music. The waiters hover and dote on customers constantly. "How's the fried rice?" "Would you like more noodles?" A bit much for a ramen joint you might say? Yeah, probably. But too much service is better than too little.
I've been to Shinsengumi's Robata Yakitori next door, and got the same over-the-top service there once. I just didn't expect the same in a noodle joint.
So now the food. I ordered the A-Set lunch which is a bowl of their special pork ramen and a plate of pan fried gyoza. These gyoza were tiny, cute little things, about the width of two dimes. Filled with a teaspoon of pork and scallions, they were perfectly crisp. Dipped into a slurry of soy, vinegar and chili oil, I scarfed it all within a minute.
Now came the noodles. I forgot to mention that when you order, you do so by writing what you want down on a sheet of paper. You indicate how you want your noodles. Will it be "firm" "normal" or "soft"? As for the broth, will it be "oily", "normal" or "no oil"? I opted for "normal" for all.
So about the noodles. Firm yet still supple, with a nice bite and good clean taste. There was a good bit of it too, or maybe I wasn't that hungry coming into this lunch.
The soup was tonkotsu style, made by rigorously boiling pork bones for hours. Very murky, milky, it had the color of light caramel. This elixir was warm, but not hot. I would preferred it if it were hotter. At Santoka, in the Mitsuwa Marketplace, I routinely burn my tongue on their broths. I'd be swearing afterwards, but then I remember a scene in the movie, "Tampopo", where Goro says to Tampopo, "He shouldn't be able to drink the soup so soon! The soup should be HOT!"
The flavor of the soup was somewhat subtle. Rich and porky, but also light and clean. This is different from Santoka. I'm not sure which one I liked better. Perhaps this would be more of a soup for a spring day - slightly rich but not too heavy. Santoka is for winter - full bodied and assertively porky.
The one thing I didn't get was the tuft of pickled ginger they put on top of the soup. It is to me, just a little weird. The taste just seems out of place in a ramen soup this subtle. The sliced pork was tender and but tasted a little pasty. A bit more heft and fat would have done the soup good.
As I asked for the check, the waiter thanked me in Japanese and bowed ceremoniously. Dang! What a production! And I loved it! The total for the lunch was $9.00 with tax and tip included. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Yes.
HAKARA RAMEN, Shinsengumi
18315 Brookhurst St., #1
Fountain Valley, CA
Photos of my meal can be seen in my blog: