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Melanie Wong | Oct 21, 201901:45 AM     4

About five years ago I “retired” myself from more than a decade of reporting on ramen spots and ranking their offerings. Real ramen had become more mainstream, expanding its presence in the Bay Area, and most importantly, improving in quality. Now covered regularly by food media, my opinion as a public service no longer seemed as critical, and I moved on to other chow obsessions.

A few weeks ago, Tsuta reached out with news of its San Francisco opening, its first in the United States. Tsuta Tokyo is the first ramen place to earn a Michelin star. The San Francisco restaurant has been in soft-opening since September 28, and had its grand opening on October 20. While I was invited to a private media event to try the product, I opted instead to visit on Tuesday, a couple days before the unveiling for the press and to pay my own way. I did accept the reserved slot that allowed my friend and I to avoid the line of 20+ people waiting outside at 5:30pm.

Besides not having to wait, we were happy to be led to a pair of counter seats, front and center for watching the kitchen action. About half the assembly area was devoted to staff training for putting together the ramen bowls. Lifting up the noodles in the stock to keep them separate, adding spoonfuls of tare and seasoning oils, arranging the toppings just so, all under the watchful tutelage of an experienced kitchen lieutenant. This reduction in through-put did, however, slow down filling orders. But that should ease in the days to come.

In addition to ramen, we ordered two side dishes. First, Tori Karaage, $5, made with boneless dark chicken meat was served with creamy housemade mayonnaise flecked with green speckles (herbs?). Pretty bland, the chicken did not seem to be marinated very much before frying. The pieces were haphazard and too large. The heavy, greasy batter was not crisp. I was wishing for a wedge of lemon to perk things up, as the neutral mayonnaise did not add much.

Next up, Ro-su Meshi, $5, described on the menu as “roasted pork on Japanese rice with butter sauce”. Before deciding on an extra pork dish, I’d told our server that I wanted to try another pork prep that would be different from the sliced chashu that tops the ramen. He described the various options and said that the pork for Ro-su Meshi was cut into blocks and heated. When that was not what was served us, I returned it, only to have the same dish given to us with a sprig of greenery added to the top. The miscommunication would seem to be the server’s fault, as the dish that has warm cubes of pork would actually be the Niku Meshi or the Aburi Niku. The menu should be revised to make the differences between dishes clearer. The Ro-su Meshi is the same cold, thinly sliced pork shoulder served with the ramen, exactly what I was trying to avoid. Very pink, definitely on the rare side for pork, and in the center of the slices, bloody juices flowed. We set those aside to cook more thoroughly in the hot ramen stock, so I can’t comment on how the butter sauced pork tastes with the rice.

My friend ordered the Ajitama Chashu Miso Soba, $16, made with thicker noodles in a heavy, gravy-like red miso stock, and the seasoned egg and three more slices of chashu over the basic $12 option. Though the diced red onion, housemade hot sauce, porcini mushroom oil and corn created some interest, this remained fairly simple in taste overwhelmed by the excessive salt level. Though ramen stocks are typically highly salted to impart flavor to the noodles and not for ease of drinking, this was way over the top. Oddly, the thick noodles did not absorb much miso or salt flavor. I had almost wondered if we’d be offered some milder dashi or even plain hot water to dilute the miso base later.

For me, the Ajitama Chashu Shoyu Soba, $16, which is Tsuta’s signature ramen flavor. The delicate chicken-based shoyu stock was less salty than the miso one, allowing a couple spoonfuls of the liquid to be consumed between bites of the other components. Rather mild on the shoyu notes, almost on par with the black truffle sauce flavors, some layers of briny seafood umami and mostly notable for not including MSG or an excess of salt, the stock was quite intricate and elegant in a lighter frame. The fermented bamboo shoots, often my least favorite topping, were so tender and not fibrous with muted seasoning. The julienned white part of leeks made for a frilly topping rather than sliced in rounds. Even the parsley was a bit different, more fragile and fragrant. The lean chashu was too chewy despite being sliced so thin. A bit too sweet in the balance, the seasoned egg was runny-yolked though icy cold in the center. The thin soba, blending four types of selected wheat and whole grain flours, were almost brittle in texture, staying firm to the bottom of the bowl. My friend commented that the noodles were Italian “al dente” in firmness but lacked the bouncy chewiness of Chinese “Q”. I would probably add the extra portion of noodles in the future.

I enjoyed the signature shoyu stock immensely. I appreciated an alternative to the heavy tonkotsu and tori paiten ramen that are so popular in this area. The earthiness of black truffles is surprisingly complementary to subtle shoyu flavors. When my noodles were gone, a spoonful of white rice moistened with the shoyu base was another way to savor the stock and ratchet back the salt level. The only real fault with this bowl was the texture and rawness of the chashu, and that’s something that should be corrected in a short time.

Oh, and we liked the buckwheat tea, available hot or cold. Service was pretty smooth for a two-week old restaurant. Tsuta San Francisco enters the ramen ranking at #7.

Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodles
155 4th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose (closed)
2. Tsujita, 2057 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles
3. Santouka, 665 Paularino Ave, Costa Mesa
4. Tatsunoya at Mitsuwa Kyushu and Okinawan festival, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
5. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
6. Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
7. Tsuta, 155 4th St, San Francisco
8. Santouka, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
9. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
10. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
11. Shin Shin Men Men, 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
12. Gaku Japanese Charcoal Grill, 5152 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
13. Yonsei Ramen Shop @ Hopscotch, 1915 San Pablo Ave, Oakland (discontinued)
14. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
15. Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
16. Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St, San Mateo
17. Shalala, 698 W Dana St, Mountain View
18. Kansui Ramen, 1185 Lincoln Ave, San Jose (closed)
19. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
20. Jinya Ramen Bar, 2400 Main St, Santa Monica
21. Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
22. Shalala Japanese Ramen, 1737 Buchanan St, San Francisco (closed)
23. Alexander’s Steakhouse Lounge, 10330 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino (closed)
24. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo
25. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
26. Ramen Gaijin, 6948 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol
27. Ramen Tenma, 487 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
28. Hapa Ramen, 1 Ferry Bldg farmers market, San Francisco (closed)
29. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
30. Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge, 508 4th St, San Francisco (closed)
31. Izakaya Sozai, 1500 Irving St, San Francisco
32. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
33. Tamashii Ramen House, 3288 Pierce St, Richmond (closed)
34. Ramen Yamadaya, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
35. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
36. Waraku, 1638 Post St, San Francisco
37. Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
38. Iza Ramen, 2170 Bryant St, San Francisco (moved)
39. Ken Ken Ramen, pop-up at The Corner, San Francisco (closed, moved)
40. Kyora Japanese Restaurant, 1217 Wildwood Ave, Sunnyvale (closed)
41. Sobo, 988 Franklin St, Oakland
42. Kotetsu Ramen, 2089 El Camino Real, Santa Clara
43. BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
44. Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley (closed)
45. Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
46. Casino Bar and Grill, Bodega
47. Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
48. Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
49. Men Oh Tokushima Ramen, 5120 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
50. Shiba Ramen, 5959 Shellmound St, Emeryville
51. Muracci’s, 244 State St, Los Altos (closed)
52. Ume Restaurant, 2214 Broadway, Oakland (closed)
53. Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
54. Tadamasa, 34672 Alvarado Niles Road, Union City
55. Noodle Me, America’s Cup Village concession, San Francisco (closed)
56. Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
57. Ippuku, 2130 Center St, Berkeley
58. Super Mira, 1790 Sutter St, San Francisco
59. Nombe, 2491 Mission St, San Francisco (closed)
60. Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
61. Shimo Modern Steakhouse, 241 Healdsburg Ave, Healdsburg (closed)
62. Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco (closed)
63. Ramen Misoya, 3541 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
64. Chubby Noodle North Beach, 570 Green St, San Francisco
65. Ame Restaurant, 689 Mission St, San Francisco (closed)
66. Yu-Raku, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
67. Namu, 439 Balboa St, San Francisco (moved)
68. Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
69. Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
70. Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
71. Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
72. Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
73. Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
74. Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco (closed)
75. Ramen Seas, 173 S Murphy Ave, Sunnyvale
76. Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
77. Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
78. Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
79. Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara (closed)
80. Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame (closed)
81. Shizen, 370 14th St, San Francisco
82. Ramen.Co, Soy and Tofu Festival, San Francisco
83. Saiwaii Ramen, 2240 Irving St, San Francisco
84. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
85. King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco (closed)
86. Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
87. Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
88. Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
89. Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo (closed)
90. Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose (now Dan Izakaya)
91. Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco (closed)
92. King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
93. Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco (closed, moved)
94. Nute’s Noodle Nights, 903 Cortland Ave, San Francisco
95. Nijiya, 1737 Post St #333, San Francisco
96. Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
97. Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
98. Dan Izakaya, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
99. Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo (closed)
100. 100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco (closed)
101. Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
102. H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
103. Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco (closed)
104. Chotto, 3317 Steiner St, San Francisco (closed)
105. Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek (closed)
106. Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
107. Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco (closed)
108. Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
109. La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas (closed)
110. Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
111. Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
112. Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
113. Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
114. Ramen Underground Japantown, 22 Peace Plaza, San Francisco (closed)
115. Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto (closed)
116. Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco (closed)
117. Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco (closed)
118. Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
119. Ramen Tomo, 4390 Telegraph Ave, Oakland (closed)
120. Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
121. Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
122. Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
123. Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
124. El Ramen Bar II, Carretera Ensenada-Tijuana, Ensenada
125. Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

Tsuta Japanese Soba Noodles
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