Restaurants & Bars

Kotoya Japanese Ramen: A Pictorial Essay

J.L. | Aug 2, 201201:00 AM     34

Verdict: Just getting started, and showing some promise...

Tucked into the same mini-mall as Hop Li on Santa Monica Blvd. in West L.A., Kotoya is in its first month of operation. Liquor license is still pending. There is a ramen bar, in addition to tables. Decorated with wooden wall fixtures, the dining room itself is welcoming. The menu here is a bit confusing. It consists of "white" ramen (shoyu), and "red" ramen (miso). The "red" option allows for different levels of spiciness. All broths are pork-based. We ordered one shoyu bowl and one miso bowl (mild spicy). The staff seems ready to answer questions about the menu (which hopefully is a signal that will nudge the management to clarify the menu for future diners).

Sides include soboro-don (rice bowl with roasted chicken and scrambled egg), hayashi meshi (shredded onion with curry beef over rice), hiya-yakko (cold tofu 2 ways: with spicy oil and with bonito flakes+soy sauce), chicken kara-age, and age-dashi tofu. We tried to soboro-don, the hayashi meshi, and the hiya-yakko 2 ways. All three were well-executed, though nothing spectacular (but then again, the sides are not supposed to be the stars in a ramen house).

There are also 3 variations of tsukemen on the menu, but I did not have a chance to try them.

- The chashu itself is just terrific. The pork is perfectly tender, juicy, flavorful, and texturally complex. In a word: Super! The chashu by itself is on par with the best I've had in any ramen-ya in L.A.
- The miso broth, with a hint of spiciness, is quite nice. That broth goes great with the chashu.

But here is where things take a turn. The shoyu broth tasted good on the palate upfront, but lacked depth. The noodles themselves had some "bite", but were uninspiring overall. And unfortunately, the nitamago (flavored egg) was too hard-boiled, and cold! It tasted like it was simply taken out of the fridge, cut in half, and served. I would have really liked a decently prepared hanjuku egg with my shoyu bowl to see if the broth could be taken to the next level with the runny yolk, but alas...

To be fair, Kotoya is in its infancy, and is thus still "feeling its oats", so to speak. But they already serve a really, really nice piece of chashu, which is always good to build on. I have a feeling that I'll probably see improvements on my next visit there. Plus, I still have to try their tsukemen!

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