With Friday, January 2, off, William and I headed to San Mateo for a late lunch at Santa, a first time for both of us. Id wanted to try it since Wendy-san recommended it a couple years ago. Heeding the tales of long lines, we thought we might have a better chance at lunch time. At 1:20pm on a wet and drizzly day, we had FOUR parties ahead of us on the sign-in sheet when we arrived. Perhaps a veteran can assess whether thats better or worse than dinner hour. Maybe it was so busy because it was a Japanese holiday, although we noticed more Mandarin, Cantonese, and Korean being spoken by the waiting patrons than Japanese.
As we waited outside in the damp and cold, the little cardboard signs posting sold-out items started to appear. First the kara-age (Chinese-style fried chicken) was gone. More minutes ticked by and soon the stewed pork sold out. My anxiety that the good stuff would all be gone was climbing almost as fast as my growing hunger pangs. I was also wishing Id worn wool socks. By the time we sat down at the counter at 1:53pm, I was dangerously close to raving mania level (and soggy too).
Wed been studying the list of ramen combinations on the wall during our long wait and were able to order quickly. The only extras offered at Santa are Egg, $1, Extra noodles, $1, or the kara-age set at lunch hour. Otherwise, you select from the three broth flavors topped with predetermined ingredients. I had muttered to my brother that I wanted to order every extra and appetizer because I wasnt going to wait in a line like this again. Unfortunately, we then learned that no appetizers are served at lunch, only at dinner time, except for kimchee. We gulped our cold barley tea William thought it had a more refined taste than Ryowas. We sprang for a little dollop of extra kimchee, which was good except that it came at the same time as our noodles and not earlier to take the edge off our hunger.
Our food was served at 2:13pm, a longer wait it seemed to me than our other ramen forays. However, I did not have the benefit of a wall-mounted clock at the other restaurants to track the time intervals.
Williams Pork flavor with roast pork, $7.95, was garnished simply with chopped scallions and fine shreds of red pickled ginger. The soothing milky broth had a glycerined, fatty weight and mouthfeel, but like fredinski, he preferred the deeper and more muscular style at Halu. I thought the bite of the ginger and faint sourness was a brilliant flavor accent with the subtle and refined broth. The thickly cut roast pork was bland and a little chewy, lacking the fine seasoning of Halus or the buttery tenderness of Ramen Clubs.
My own Soy bean flavor with spicy miso, $7.95, was hotter spice-wise than I expected in a Japanese place. Before the added ingredients had mingled into the stock, I thought the basic broth was tastier and less angular than Halus version. As the toppings melded, it transformed into a fiery blend enriched with miso and chili paste that added punch to the seaweed, fermented bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, slices of roast pork, the extra egg, and the noodles. It got hotter as it steeped, and polishing off the end of my bowl, William was also surprised that there was this much fire and boldness in the kitchens palette.
O noodles! As good as the broths are at Santa, the noodles are the star of the show. We were very happy wed ordered an extra portion in our bowls. Wonderfully silky, smooth, and slurpable, the noodles seemed a little wider and flatter than the other examples weve tried, almost linguine-like. The medium-firm texture held up all the way to the bottom of my bowl. And, even for as hungry as Id been, I could not finish my serving, as much as I had enjoyed it.
We were out of there by 2:40pm. My brother is already plotting his return to order the stewed pork and the kara-age. Im glad we had a chance to try it, but Im ambivalent about going back if this wait for seating was typical. Id love to hear strategies for times to go when the line is shorter.
From San Francisco ChowNews #4:
Santa Japanese Restaurant
805 South B St