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Restaurants & Bars 6

Santouka RAMEN - review & Q's - ping rickmond

Andrew Gore | May 29, 200608:54 PM

Thank you, Rickmond, for your expert advice here. I decided to take you up on your rave reviews and check out Santouka. I know it's at the Mitsuwa market on Western in Torrance. I'd never been before, and I walked around the area quite a bit before I realized it is IN the market itself, not adjoining, in a sort of interior food court next to the actual market. I felt I shuld point that out, as no one else has, and it may save some confusion. It's a nice little food court, with a half-dozen nice "booths" with attractive food offerings at all of them. There's curry houses, Bento boxes, sushi, noodle shops, etc such as Tien-Chen-Ro, Mifune, Miyabe-te, and Katsuhara. It is so "Japanese", the signs aren't in Engrish and you have to do a little sleuthing to figger out what's what. A good sign, for any kind of authentic food. When you have to point and grunt at the menu, you know you're in for the real thing. The gals who man each booth seem reasonably bilingual, however. Another thing I noticed was that there were signs at every booth that made it clear, in Jap and English, that there is "NO FOOD TO GO!" I believe that that's because the purpose of the food court is to encourage people to shop at the market. In fact, none of the booths serve drinks; if you want a soda, you have to go into the supermarket and buy one out of the cold case. They don't want people to just drop in and grab food to go. However, they can't stop you from bringing Tupperware, or such...

So I finally figured out which was Santouka. I'm not familiar with how to order at ramen shops, and couldn't remember if one dish is supposed to be especially good. But I finally made a decision based on the 'plastic' food on display; a bowl of ramen, a side of some kind of topping on rice, and a tamago, or hard-boiled egg, sliced in half and in a bowl of it's own, in some kind of sauce. Combo #71, Shiro Ramen (a full bowl, not the wimpy chiba), Natto Gohan, and the tamago. Food came quickly, and I took my tray and found an empty seat. The room was filled with parents and kids out shopping for the day, not the usual restaurant crowd. Gohan seems to be what the side rice dish is called. The "Natto" is some kind of tiny bean in a kind of sticky glue. I took one bite, and then another , and then shoved it aside. It tasted strange and unpleasant to me, and the gluey stickiness was repulsive. It reminded me of the one other dish I can't eat, Okra, which makes me want to gag.

So then I tried the shiro ramen. Wonderful! Best ramen I've ever had. I didn't know ramen could be so good. Deep, rich pork broth, complex flavor, very satisfying. And the ramen noodles! Everybody raves about the broth, but I thought the noodles were also great. Just the rght amount of chewiness, with a strong, natural wheat flavor, like well-made bread. Broth is about as good as Daikokuya, and the noodles are much better, IMHO. The tamago was also unusually good. I ate half the egg, then cut up the other half and dumped it, sauce and all, into the bowl. And I cleaned out that bowl, every drop and noodle. Next time I'm going to try the Ikura Gohan on the side. I love Ikura sushi, so it should be better for me than the Natto.

I will definetly return. I'd like to try the other offerings at Santouka, and also at the other food court offerings. How do I compare it to Daikokuya? *I* overall prefer the Daik, myself. NOT because it's better. The deep, rich tonkotsu broth at both is great. As a guy whose idea of "ramen" is the 10,000 packs of Top Ramen I've had in my life, I will defer to Rickmond as the expert that Santouka is measurably better. To me, the Daik is much closer, close enough to drop by after work, and the Santouka takes me a dedicated Saturday trip to go to. Also, I love the funky atmosphere at the Daik. As someone said, it's only a couple years old, but is made to look like it's been a neighborhood favorite for 50 years. The Santouka is a pleasant place to eat, but let's face it, it's a... shopping-mall food court. I'd rather sit at the counter at Daikokuya, eavesdropping on the movie industry types, checking out the hip college students, etc. And it's hard to spend over $10 at either place. And Daik WILL gladly serve their food to go, unlike Sant and SSG.

Next trip to Gardena soon, I plan to visit the new Japanese supermarket Marukai, which I passed on my way to the Mitsuwa, and the food offerings as described by J Gold in a recent Weekly. I also am going to try the famed Shin-Sen-Gumi.

A few questions:
- If a ramen place has "tonkotsu" broth, does that mean all the ramen dishes feature that same pork broth, or just one or two dishes? At a place like Santouka, is any soup I order have the broth, or are there different broths for different soups?
- I have heard at Daikokuya, there is a way to order that gets you an extra-strong broth. You ask for "something"-style ramen. What is that?
- I want to go to Shin-Sen-Gumi next. As I was leaving Mitsuwa, I passed "SSG Yakitori" as I drove up Western. I assume this is NOT the place I want to go? Where is the 'right' SSG, the one on Redondo Beach near Western? And how do I order what's best; do I just want to order one of the Hakata Ramen combos?

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