Finally tried Santoko Ramen today at the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa. I ordered the #1, since I really had no clue in the difference between the other choices. The #1 ($6.49) turned out to be a bowl of ramen in a milky broth (exactly what I was hoping for), topped with a slice of thick fatty pork (looked like pork belly), some finely diced scallions, julienned black wood ear mushrooms (I think), a few strands of bamboo shoots, and the requisite piece of fish cake with a pink spiral design.
First the noodles. These were excellent and perfectly cooked. It was supple but still firm, with a nice texture and appealing bright color (not a pale white like I'm usually used to).
Next the toppings. One word: awesome. The fatty slice of pork practically melts as soon as you bite into it. The fat enveloping your tongue like a warm sinful blanket. The bamboo shoots were still crunchy, but, this is important, not fibrous. The scallions and mushrooms added additional flavor, texture, and color. The fish cake? Well, it's just a fish cake. Nothing special there. Later on, I found a chunk of meaty pork hiding on the bottom of the bowl. A nice surprise.
Now the star of the dish. The soup. It was as I imagined it should be. Now, granted, I am not a ramen expert. In fact, this is the first time I have ever tried a ramen with a rich, milky, murky broth like this. I know someone will remind me what this style is called. Whatever it may be, I am now a convert. The hot milky soup simply filled my mouth with so many complex flavors. It is sweet, porky, salty, savory, peppery and creamy, all at once. Creamy you ask? Yes. But not overwhelming so. If I shut my eyes, and clear my thoughts of what the soup actually looked like, my taste buds would still register the creaminess and the body of this soup. You truly get the essense of everything that went into the soup.
I did not leave a single drop.
Now, at $6.49 ($6.99 with tax), which was just about the cheapest item on the Santoko menu, I can understand why it wasn't the most crowded stall there. That distinction went to the Miyabi stall next door. There was an actual line going up the Miyabi window while Santoku was practically deserted. Santoko definitely sells a pretty expensive bowl of noodles when compared to what the other stalls were offering. But for today, and for my money, I felt it was worth it.
(It's the stall with the dark wood border and no English signage)
665 Paularino Ave.,
Costa Mesa CA 92626