Monday, June 18, 2012

Oot and Aboot in DC: A near miss at Sakuramen

There are few things I enjoy more than noodles in soup.  It is pure comfort food for me.  Chicken Noodle, Wonton Noodle, Pho, Taiwanese Beef Noodle... you name it - if it's a noodle, and it's served in soup, I will love it.  So naturally, I had to get down to Sakuramen sooner or later to try out their take on Japan's version of my favourite dish.

Situated right in the middle of the Adams Morgan strip, Sakuramen has some prime real estate, although I'd imagine that the ambiance on a Friday or Saturday night might be less than stellar.  Liz and I went this past Sunday however, which was pretty much perfect.

The staff were super-friendly as we got seated, and noticing the sharp decor and the delicious smell of the place, my expectations started to rise considerably.

I ordered a plate of pork buns to start, with the "Sakuramen" as my main.

Liz inquired about the availability of rice noodles, but as they didn't have any, she opted for the spicy ramen broth with pork belly, sans noodles.

Just add acid
Ever since David Chang blazed the post-modern pork bun trail at Momofuku, many asian eateries have put forth their own versions of the delicious Chinese classic.  And yet, I often find the exact same mistake being made by many of these places: no balance.  The essence of the classical Char Siu Bao is the combination of salty and sweet you get with the pork.  Too many places stop at just salty, and Sakuramen falls into that trap, with only a garnish of green onion to provide any kind of counterpoint to the pork, resulting in a final product that is crying out for some acid, or sweetness.  I really think that the pickled radish and carrot combo that one gets on a Banh Mi would be ideal here and would result in a fantastic pork bun.
Delicious, delicious noodles...

The ramen is similarly unbalanced.  The noodles, I will say, were pretty much perfect.  Toothsome and delicious, it was so close to an awesome bowl of ramen.  Unfortunately, the broth and toppings couldn't quite pull it together.

Now don't get me wrong - I totally understand that ramen is supposed to be salty, believe me.  But at its highest level, ramen should be salty + something else.  Say salty + rich from the yolk of a soft-boiled egg, or salty + spicy from a shot of sriracha, or salty + sour from a garnish of pickled vegetables.  And Sakuramen had the right idea, topping my noodles with big slices of mushrooms, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), and corn, but the underlying saltiness of the broth, combined with too many green onions atop the noodles overwhelmed the rest of the flavours that were trying desperately to elbow their way into contact with my tastebuds.  Liz found a similar issue with her broth, although the spiciness of hers provided a little more depth.

All in all, it was an OK meal that was just a few tweaks away from being really excellent.  Hopefully they'll have those tweaks squared away next time I get the craving for more ramen...

Gluten-Free Notes: 

Sakuramen isn't a great spot if you need to be gluten-free.  Liz enjoyed the soup with pork-belly, but felt that the pork may have been marinated in soy sauce as she felt a little bit of Gluten Haze hitting her as we left.  If you really need to be gluten-free, you're probably better off going out for Pho instead...

No comments:

Post a Comment