The Soup and the Strands of Affection

by James Boo on October 20, 2008 · 8 comments

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During my last visit to East-West Hair, I got on the topic of hunger with my barber, Ikho. He asked me if I had ever eaten ramen. I couldn’t tell exactly how complicated he intended that question to be, so I answered in the affirmative. Ikho encouraged me to pay a visit to the shopping center next door and try a bowl of their ramen, which he simply characterized as “very good.”

Santoka Ramen - Costa Mesa, CA Mitsuwa Marketplace - Costa Mesa, CA
In our world of democratized research, where the technologically deft are constantly developing new ways to aggregate the world’s dining experience, it’s easy to underestimate the gravity of a single recommendation. A local tip can seem trifling when held against the mass of its counterparts online. The growing accessibility and interactive nature of restaurant reviews is surely a boon to those with utility to maximize, but access to DSL does not a decisive diner make.

Yelp, which a friend of mine once compared to a premature ejaculation, demonstrates this dilemma most effectively: On the one hand, it offers instant vital information on any dining establishment imaginable, but on the other hand it delivers a dizzying array of opinions that forces more responsibility on its user than is often convenient. By linking restaurant reviews with some of Web 2.0’s less noble features, Yelp’s doesn’t denigrate the demand of a quality writeup, but it does complicate food with popularity contests and a community of widgets.

It was curmudgeonly thrill to me, then, that Ikho wanted to acquaint me with his favorite ramen bowl. Scenes from Tampopo flashed through my mind as I entered Mitsuwa Marketplace and headed straight for the food court, where a long line of lunch break visitors made clear which counter I was meant to patronize. I ordered a bowl of spicy miso ramen and sat down in a corner booth with my prize, imagining myself in the company of the Ramen Master himself. I would later discover that I had been led to Santoka, a Mitsuwa food court constant that in reality bears less romanticism than I had first imagined.

Spicy Miso Ramen - Santoka Ramen - Costa Mesa, CA
Nevertheless, much like that legendary first chapter of Tampopo, Santoka’s spicy miso ramen turned my meager experience with Japanese noodles on its head and redefined the genre with every savory slurp. Foremost was the broth, positively sparkling with grease. Its shimmer was backed by a rich, almost milky consistency, which provided a complex yet comforting base for the broth’s salty, greasy, modestly spicy flavors. While a typical bowl of ramen broth would be little more than a diluted dissolve, Santoka’s broth possessed the taste of a sommelier and the body of a teamster.

Fulfilling the promise of a magnificent broth were Santoka’s ramen noodles, carrying themselves with the same strength of body and purpose. Even more crucial than the noodles’ hearty texture was their abundance. It’s hard to overstate the importance of balance when it comes to soup; even if the broth is delicious enough to drink as a beverage, it does little to satisfy without a generous helping of the ingredients that make a bowl of ramen truly satisfying. Santoka’s noodles, commanding the volume of the bowl, were held high in this regard.

Bringing everything into focus were the accoutrement of any ramen bowl: sliced pork, fish cake, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, scallions and seaweed. Each ingredient was perfectly cooked: the pork a fine cut of fatty meat, the bamboo boiled just enough to register as tender, and the others present in quantities restrained enough to serve their purpose.

As I finished a bowl of ramen broth for the first time in my life without being prompted by promises of glory, I understood what the Ramen Master meant by “affection,” and what Ikho meant by “very good.” The averaged judgments of 155 Yelp accounts already stood behind those words, but it took the delivery of a Japanese hairstylist to give them meaning.

Santoka (inside Mitsuwa Marketplace)
665 Paularino Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714.434.1101

Comments

James October 20, 2008 at 9:01 am

I am, like, 5 miles from this place -salivates-

Liat October 20, 2008 at 5:24 pm

I had the pleasure of trying this Ramen in Mitsuwa on Hokkaido Days Festival in San Jose a month ago.

It is probably the best ramen I have ever tasted. The only thing that might be comparable is the Stewed Pork of Santa Ramen in San Mateo, which apparently makes people wait in line a half an hour before opening so that you can get the Stewed Pork before it runs out.

I am glad to find out that you can get this ramen elsewhere.

shavedicesundays October 21, 2008 at 3:10 am

I know! I can’t stand a good bowl of noodles that is lacking in…noodles. Gonna get some Ramen myself at Foo Foo Tei this weekend, but good Ramen in my area is sorely lacking. The only other place I really liked on Colima closed down recently. I’ll have to keep this place in mind if I venture down into that area.

James October 21, 2008 at 4:39 am

shavedice,

I hope you aren’t talking about the place next to Big Lots off of Nogales :( That place serves a nice ramen, though it doesn’t address the noodle issue as squarely as Santoka.

Liat,

I’ve heard of some inconsistencies in the Santoka franchise, so I’m also thankful that Costa Mesa isn’t an outlier case. Thank the maker for great chain restaurants.

Julie,

Follow your tongue!

shavedicesundays October 22, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Hmmm is there a Ramen place next to Big Lots? I need to check it out. No, the one I was talking about was right next to Curry House and Nijiya Supermarket between Fullerton and Azusa on Colima (behind a Carl’s Jr.).

Doug October 28, 2008 at 7:45 am

Tampopo is such a great movie. I love the French Restaurant Scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcMaZLiqVpI The only problem is the horrible ramen craving it induces. You need to be within striking distance of a fine bowl of ramen when you watch it.

James October 28, 2008 at 3:47 pm

The scene that actually makes me hungriest is when the hobo sneaks in to make omurice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-GFimGcYJw Every moment of that fry job is pure agony.

foodhoe January 3, 2009 at 1:34 am

That looks like a proper bowl of noodles! That fatty piece of pork brings tears to my eyes… that’s no chashu, and indeed looks to rival the fatty pork belly found at Santa Ramen in San Mateo.

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