Drawn by two intriguing mentions of Ramen Halu, we stopped by Tuesday for a quick dinner on our way south for the Christmas holiday.
Open since April, this was not the tradition-bound Japanese noodle house I was expecting to find. The tunes are hip-hop and two beautiful custom boards mounted on the wall bearing the Ramen Halu logo are the focal point of the décor. Framed photographs of the worlds top surfing spots hang over each small table.
Yet, the small focused menu feels old country. No gyoza, no tempura, no fried chicken - just a handful of appetizers, three rice dishes, and only three types of ramen: Halu with richer broth and thick noodles, Tokyo with shoyu-flavored broth and thin noodles, and Shio with clear sea salt-flavored broth and thin noodles. A footnote on the menu says, We would like our valued customers to know that all of our ramen broth (soup) is prepared with pork stock.
Theres also old world pride in craftsmanship. A laminated flyer (in English and Japanese) describes Halus artisanal methods used to brew the two soup stock bases, roast the barbecue pork, ferment the bamboo shoots, and so on. Plus, it discusses the nutritional and restorative attributes of each ingredient down to the last organic spinach leaf.
The added information convinced my brother to go whole hog on his order with more of the house made pork, choosing the Halu ramen with extra BBQ pork ($8.90). I had wanted to try the spicy piri noodles, but apparently this is a summer-only item. Instead, I ordered the Tokyo ramen ($6.90).
Both were excellent. The fresh noodles were crinkly and firm. The thick ones in the Halu ramen were about twice the thickness and stayed extra firm. Pureed garlic and chili sauce are provided as condiments at the table, however, we ate ours unadorned as served.
The heavy and robust broth for the Halu ramen was extra lustrous and rich in flavor with a natural sweetness. William noted the gelatin stickiness on his lips from the intensely concentrated soup. He also pointed out the bits of white pork fat dusted on top of his soup for more richness. The BBQ pork, made from pork shoulder, was buttery tender and delicately seasoned.
The broth for the Tokyo ramen was leaner with a less pronounced pork component. The soy sauce flavor came through but without being excessively salty. It was topped with BBQ pork, fish cake, nori, spinach, green onions, and fermented bamboo shoots. The spinach was very high quality and I imagined that someone in the kitchen had hand-selected each leaf. My serving seemed to have an extra portion of the fermented bamboo slices. I didnt care for the musty aroma and slightly bitter taste of the bamboo, and next time Ill ask for it to be served on the side.
We liked the texture of the noodles better than Ryowas. William noticed that while the soup was hot, it wasnt scalding hot like Ryowas, and preferred this temperature.
For my beverage, I ordered Ramune, described on the drinks menu as Japanese cider, $1.80. At the time I didnt know what to expect, but have now been baptized as a Ramune fan. Our waitress brought the cold bottle (shown below) to me with a pile of extra napkins, which should have been my tip off that opening it might be a little messy. Instead of a bottle cap, the bottle is sealed by a glass marble held against the lip of the bottle by the carbonation. The trick is to press firmly and evenly on the opener to release the pressure slowly. I dutifully read the precautions on the warning label, then the four-part opening instructions, but still managed to spray the table.
The next day I picked up a couple more at the Japanese food store in Salinas to practice. We bought a bunch of Ramune in different flavors at Ranch 99 on Christmas day to take to our family dinner as party favors. Our relatives were amused and entertained by their Ramune pops.
375-M South Saratoga Ave.
(next to Check Cashing in strip mall north of Happi House, near Stevens Creek Blvd.)