We went there this Saturday after spending a few hours at the botanical garden in Golden Gate park. We were deciding between Ebisu and Hotei, when I saw "Japanese noodles" on the Hotei display, and that sealed the deal. I vaguely remember that it didn't rank very highly with other ramenphiles here like Melanie or Tanspace, but I had to try them myself to find out.
Rather large for a ramen place, because they actually serve the American-Japanese "specialty" rolls and standard Japanese bento box stuff. I enjoy those sometimes, but that day was going to be ramen.
They had miso and shoyu based ramen. For extra toppings you could have chashu and moyashi. They also ankake ramen and some other soba and udon as well.
I ordered a shoyu chasu ramen with added moyashi. My friend ordered the ankake ramen but since she's vegetarian she had to have the broth be vegetarian and no fish cake or such in her bowl. For appetizers we had the vegetarian gyoza and agedashitofu. Yes a lot of stuff for two people, but we were hungry.
The appetizers were standard. The vegetable gyoza had a sharp, hot taste to it that I couldn't identify, but it wasn't bad.
When the bowls of ramen came out, we were surprised at how big they were because the window display versions were much smaller portioned.
The egg noodles reminded me of the noodles in proper wonton mein, but slightly thicker. They did not come out mushy, but they were definitely a far cry from the the more-firm-than-el-dente that I like from the Halu-style ramen.
The shoyu broth wasn't super hot. It doesn't make sense to like the broth super hot because you won't be able to taste it, but when it gets to the end of the bowl, it will be still be hot which is a huge plus. At Hotei, I felt it got cold rather quickly. This may because it doesn't have that thin greasy layer floating at the top that is common with Halu or Santa. That grease layer really keeps the temperature up there. The broth had a more sweet profile than a salty one. This makes me think MSG. It also wasn't "thick" like Santa's shoyu broth. Oh yeah, I don't remember having any seaweed as a topping. That was only a small annoyance.
All in all it wasn't a bad bowl of ramen but it didn't reach my expectations of Halu or Santa quality. It's not that far from the I-could-make-it-myself quality.
One positive to note, is that the ramen at Hotei is cheaper than other places by at least a dollar.
So far my rankings for Bay Area ramen (still incomplete!) is:
Tie 1) Ramen Halu, San Jose
Tie 1) Santa, San Mateo. These two are tied only because I haven't gone to Santa enough times to try their Tonkatsu or Miso ramen.
3) Do-Henkotsu, San Jose. My first ramen place I tried. Their broth has improved from their watery downturn after their January holiday. Still a good place for a change of pace.
4)Ramen Club, Burlingame. I just went this week. It's a good, cheap deal for lunch (free gyoza) but their spicy miso soup was watery and tasteless and noodles similar to Hoteis.
5) Hotei, San Francisco
6) Tanto, San Jose. Sorry their clam ramen tasted like instant ramen with clams thrown in.