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Ramen Halu: sweet, difficult, good

David Sloo | Jan 5, 200604:22 AM

Ramen Halu, on Saratoga in San Jose, is next to a check-cashing emporium. You will probably have to wait, even at 11:30. The place seats about 30, including four at a somewhat inconvenient counter. Inconvenient, in the sense that the server can't reach two of the spots, so you occasionally have to pass hot dishes across. The counter includes some standard shrine offerings like oranges.

Unlike most of the Bay Area ramen bars, Halu is ramen-only. There are a salad and rice available, but the menu includes only ramen.

The signature ramen Halu is in a salty, moderately sweet broth. It is a rich, cloudy soup, with lots of meat flavor and bits of fat near the top. It should be great. However, it doesn't have the dimension that one can taste in really good Hakata-ramen broth -- at Maru-ichi in Mountain View, for example.

On the table are small pots of garlic and of sweet chilli paste. These add interest to the broth, and I admire them.

The presentation of the ramen is impeccable: a square of nori sits above the surface, the pieces of pork are well distributed. The menma (prepared bamboo shoot) and mushroom are generous and not too sweet.

The pork slices are perhaps the best I have encountered in ramen. Ironically, the pork served in ramen is often overcooked and feels dry in the mouth -- though doused in soup. Halu's pork was cooked fully, but not to the point of crumble.

My bowl arrived after 23 minutes' wait from ordering. The soup was not completely hot. The thick noodles, slightly wavy, are good but not up to Santa's al dente standard. At Halu, Halu ramen comes by default with these thick noodles; the Tokyo ramen comes with thin noodles.

Halu, incidentally, is spelled haru in katakana on the menu.

My short list is therefore currently:

Any choice at Raumen Stadium, Canal City, Fukuoka
Maru-ichi, Mountain View
Ichiran, Fukuoka (two locations)
Santa, San Mateo
Himawari, San Mateo (sit at the counter, order shio)
Ramen Halu, San Jose

Soups available at Ramen Halu are shio (sea salt), Tokyo (admirable chicken), and Halu (rich bone-based meat broth).

Ramen Halu, 375 South Saratoga Ave., San Jose, California 95129, Phone/Fax (408) 246-3933

Link: http://www.ramenhalu.com/

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