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New York Style Ramen @ Kumako in San Jose


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New York Style Ramen @ Kumako in San Jose

Melanie Wong | Sep 19, 2006 09:29 AM

The ramen shop slated to take over the space that housed Yasu in San Jose's Japantown opened last week. Named Kumako ("little bear"), it specializes in New York-style ramen. This was a new one for me. Luckily, one of the partners was parked at the counter where I could ask a few questions.

Image of Kumako's facade -

The two owners both grew up in Northern California but have spent most of their lives in New York, owning and managing Japanese restaurants. They've come "home" for their later years and decided that inexpensive ramen was what Japantown needed. One had managed Men Kui Tei in Manhattan and brought those recipes with him. They described their stocks as lighter and spicier than what we seem to be used to out here.

I asked the cooking partner what stocks he specialized in. He fingered the shoyu, miso, and tonkotsu, saying that the miso was a blend of bean pastes. Shio, curry, and tan tan men are also offered, as well as a hiyashi ramen. Later, the other said he thought the miso was the most special. But I'd already ordered the tonkotsu at that point.

The tonkotsu (pork bone) stock is milky colored as described to me and indeed much lighter in weight and less greasy than the other Hakata style broths around here. While thinner, it did have attractive spiced complexity from garlic, a healthy dose of ginger, and a whiff of anise and was only moderately salted. I drank every drop of the soup and didn't need to down a gallon of water afterwards. Toppings are rather spare, just char shu, fermented bamboo shoots, nori, and bean sprouts, and there are no other toppings offered other than extra char shu. I liked that the bean sprouts were lightly sauteed until wilted which brought out more flavor. The char shu was a little hard, but definitely has potential. Thick cut, the pork slices had a tasty marinade and roasted character. I asked my server twice to request my noodles "firm" and "hard", but the ramen turned out softish. Also, these fresh noodles are not made with alkaline water and have an unattractive gummy, tackiness to the texture.

Image of tonkotsu ramen -

Presentation is not a strong point here. This is simple work-a-day ramen, value priced at $6.90 per bowl. The partner I spoke with said that they're still tweaking the recipes and training staff. Generally I would advise staying away from a new place while they work out the kinks. However, in this case, it might be better to go now while the founders are still keeping an eye on things and tasting everything.

From this early sampling, Kumako earns #22 on the ramen rankings. I'll be returning some time soon and would expect it to rise as things settle down.

211 E. Jackson St.
San Jose 95112
Closed Sundays
Beer only

1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Santa, 805 S B St, San Mateo
3. Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley
4. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
5. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
6. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
7. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
8. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
9. Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
10.BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
11.Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
12.Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
13.Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
14.Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
15.Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
16.Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
17.Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
18.Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
19.Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
20.Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
21.Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
22.Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
23.Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
24.Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
25.Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino
26.Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino
27.Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo
28.Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
29.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
30.King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark
31.Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
32.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
33.Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
34.Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
35.H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont
36.Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
37.Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
38.Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
39.Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
40.Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
41.La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
42.Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
43.Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
44.Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
45.Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas
46.Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
47.Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
48.Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
49.Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
50.Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley

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