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San Francisco Bay Area San Mateo Izakaya

Kimchee Champon Ramen @ Izakaya Mai, San Mateo

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Kimchee Champon Ramen @ Izakaya Mai, San Mateo

Melanie Wong | Aug 16, 2005 05:00 AM

I'd noticed the "champon" sign at Izakaya Mai, just a couple doors down from Himawari. Last week we had a chance to try it and a few selections from the small plates menu.

The extensive menu here is all over the board --- sushi, udon, ramen, robata, and more. While there's a big sign that says "champon", the menu lists plain and a kimchee champon ramen. Later we noticed a sign posted behind a customer's head that listed two more styles, a fried ramen and a cold ramen with dipping sauce.

We started with fried oysters. Three small oysters, $6.50, were greasy and heavy. The pork belly was four, dried-out slices with little flavor. Housesmoked albacore looked like wood branches cut into disks, and in a near dessicated state, had a texture not unlike kindling.

The one small plate that was worthwhile was the miso cod (gindara), $6.75. Lightly grilled with an attractive fermented flavor, the nicely thick slice was still on the bone which seemed to give it more intense flavor. The silky flesh was luscious in the mouth.

The size of the bowl of kimchee champon ramen suprised us. It was the smallest serving we've seen in our ramen rounds, and at $10.50, this was one of the most expensive bowls we've ordered. Fortunately, the milky pork-based broth had a deliciously round, and sweet meaty taste. The thick noodles had a velvety texture and satisfying chewiness. The toppings were just average and low on seafood content with a spare amount of surimi, fried fish cake, overcooked and chewy tiny mussels, one piece of squid tentacle (just *1*), and slivers of the shocking pink fish cake. Some tough pieces of gristly, grayish meat took us several tastes before we could decide if they were pork or beef. We're still not entirely sure, but we guess it's beef. The kimchee was quite fresh and rather one-dimensional with a minimum of heat.

This bowl was overpriced for what you get, yet William and I agreed that the tasty stock and chewy noodles were worth coming back for. In the ramen rankings, I'd put this in a dead heat with Ringer Hut and its champon bowl. Ringer Hut has a leg up because its champon is half the price. Izakaya Mai comes in at #17.

Our total bill with one soft drink and tax and tip was $41, the same as we paid at Tanto in Sunnyvale for a much better meal.

Izakaya Mai
212 2nd Ave.
San Mateo 94401
650-347-2511

PERSONAL RAMEN RANKINGS

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

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