Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Hakata Ramen - Shinsengumi - Fountain Valley

Finally made it to Hakata Ramen - Shinsengumi for lunch.

First, the service. Unbelievable! If they were any more accomodating, they'd be spoon feeding me and wiping my mouth. The minute I stepped out of my car, a waiter held the door open and greeted me. As soon as I seated myself at the bar, a complimentary glass of iced tea arrived.

Throughout my meal, everyone working, from the two waiters to the two noodle jockeys, greeted every customer who entered with a hearty and sometimes a little too loud "Irashaimase!" Everyone working was probably in their twenties. One cook was particularly energetic, dancing and humming in tune to the piped-in hip hop music. The waiters hover and dote on customers constantly. "How's the fried rice?" "Would you like more noodles?" A bit much for a ramen joint you might say? Yeah, probably. But too much service is better than too little.

I've been to Shinsengumi's Robata Yakitori next door, and got the same over-the-top service there once. I just didn't expect the same in a noodle joint.

So now the food. I ordered the A-Set lunch which is a bowl of their special pork ramen and a plate of pan fried gyoza. These gyoza were tiny, cute little things, about the width of two dimes. Filled with a teaspoon of pork and scallions, they were perfectly crisp. Dipped into a slurry of soy, vinegar and chili oil, I scarfed it all within a minute.

Now came the noodles. I forgot to mention that when you order, you do so by writing what you want down on a sheet of paper. You indicate how you want your noodles. Will it be "firm" "normal" or "soft"? As for the broth, will it be "oily", "normal" or "no oil"? I opted for "normal" for all.

So about the noodles. Firm yet still supple, with a nice bite and good clean taste. There was a good bit of it too, or maybe I wasn't that hungry coming into this lunch.

The soup was tonkotsu style, made by rigorously boiling pork bones for hours. Very murky, milky, it had the color of light caramel. This elixir was warm, but not hot. I would preferred it if it were hotter. At Santoka, in the Mitsuwa Marketplace, I routinely burn my tongue on their broths. I'd be swearing afterwards, but then I remember a scene in the movie, "Tampopo", where Goro says to Tampopo, "He shouldn't be able to drink the soup so soon! The soup should be HOT!"

The flavor of the soup was somewhat subtle. Rich and porky, but also light and clean. This is different from Santoka. I'm not sure which one I liked better. Perhaps this would be more of a soup for a spring day - slightly rich but not too heavy. Santoka is for winter - full bodied and assertively porky.

The one thing I didn't get was the tuft of pickled ginger they put on top of the soup. It is to me, just a little weird. The taste just seems out of place in a ramen soup this subtle. The sliced pork was tender and but tasted a little pasty. A bit more heft and fat would have done the soup good.

As I asked for the check, the waiter thanked me in Japanese and bowed ceremoniously. Dang! What a production! And I loved it! The total for the lunch was $9.00 with tax and tip included. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

HAKARA RAMEN, Shinsengumi
18315 Brookhurst St., #1
Fountain Valley, CA
Tel: (714)962-8971


At 3:39 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Looking forward to hearing about your experience. Also, be aware that Shinsengumi charges more for dinner, but what you get is the same at lunch.

You should also try Santoka at the Mitsuwa Marketplace for a no frills, cheaper bowl of ramen with better toppings and a heartier soup.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Professor Salt said...

Nice blog, elmo! Have always enjoyed your posts on CH, and now you've got your own place. Great!

Thanks too for the ramen post, a meal close to my heart. I prefer the firm noodle / heavy oil / strong soup at SSG personally, but I agree that Santoka makes a damn fine bowl, too.

Have you tried the spam musubi at SSG yet?

At 10:52 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Prof. Salt, I thank you for the inspiration to start my blog.

As far as SSG, I completely missed the fact that you can specify a "strong" soup. I must have glossed right over that last entry. I will have to try it the way you like it next time...and get the Spam musubi.

At 11:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont think this place is "bad" per say. The broth is definately tasty and the noodles are great. But the sub par, dyed ginger is definately out of place and there should be more things on the ramen (like fishcake).

I think people get caught up in the whole "show" of this place. They certainly put on a show for everyone. It gets old after a while in my opinion and I just rather have good food (not that this place isnt good..just over rated)

I also find that if you go at dinner, you will spend a surprising amount of money. And its ramen! Last time I went, my bill was close to $60 for 2 and we just went out for Ramen (our orginal intent)

The place you mentioned in the Mitsuwa food court is KICK ASS. It rules. Just wish it wasnt in a food court and that you could go there during longer hours.

At 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Complaint: Our family specifically drove out to this restaurant to eat there because of what we had tried in the one in Gardena. We walked up and checked the time with a staff there. Apparently, we got there a bit early so we decided to wait in the car. They'll open in 15 minutes, they said.

As we watched and waited in our car, one of the waiter pulled off his socks and put them on the table and then changed in full view, in the restaurant, into their attire! Then we walked over and stood outside when it was opening time. Not only did they start their "meeting" after opening time, they didnt finish their "meeting for another 20 minutes! So we waited over 30 minutes. They didnt even apologize for making us wait, the guy said in Japanese to us, "we're open now". I dont think I want foot fungus in my food. So we all decided to leave and instead, ate across the street at the yakitori place. I'm so glad our family went to the place across the street, because their food and service were AWESOME. DO NOT GO TO Shinsengumi Fountain Valley! I HAVE NOT BEEN BACK TO EITHER GARDENA OR FOUNTAIN VALLEY LOCATIONS SINCE.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely LOVE this place...they know me and my order! Not only is the food excellent...but the service is something you do not see everyday!!! Great people work at this restaurant!

At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At first I also preferred my bowl of ramen without red ginger, but as I got used to it, I found that the red ginger complements the flavors of the soup base and green onion. It's pretty essential when you refill your bowl with extra noodles to keep things flavorful, especially for a guy on a college-student budget like me.

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally enjoy SHINSENGUMI...I'm yet to find another ramen place that beats them! Thought that the next time you go, you'll have to add chill oil, seasame, and any condiments you see on the table, they make the ramen that much better!! also, if you like garlic, just ask one of the waiter and when you add that to the Tonkotsu soup, you'll for sure drink the it all!! enjoy

At 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The red ginger is a part of Hakata style ramen. The two distinctive features of Hakata ramen is the tonkotsu-style soup and the red ginger.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh... Shin Sen Gumi; my friends and I frequent this restaurant for the Hakata Ramen. It has been said that soup is like a living thing; it should be constantly looked after and treated. In that respect, this soup thrives. These bandana and apron-clad men take something considered in many circles a staple of a starving college student and bring it to life with the pork-based Hakata Ramen. Although as of 12/2006 the iced tea is no longer complimentary, it is palatable and a good choice, although as a beverage I would also recommend Calpico water (if you haven't tried, you might want to), a popular soft drink in Japan. Shin Sen Gumi is open on New Years Eve until 11:45 pm, and then re-opens at 12:00 until 4:00. Definitely check this place out, something everyone should try.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really love this place. I've been frequenting it at least once every other week since a co-worker introduced me to this place a couple of months ago. I enjoy mixing up the toppings you can order with it. I can't go without the spicy miso now. I had not ever had ramen before this (other than that of the TOP), nor do I have much to compare it to. Seems good, but any other ramen houses you might suggest for comparison sake?

At 6:09 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


You have to try Santoka at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa (assuming you are in OC). They do one of the best bowls in the county!

At 4:37 AM, Blogger Cawley said...

I just wanted to mention that Hakata Ramen comes from Fukuoka (also known as Hakata), a city in Northern Kyushu. If you're ever in Japan, the Ramen stands where this dish is traditionally served are a real treat in and of themselves.


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