Sunday, April 01, 2018

HiroNori Craft Ramen - Irvine

Last year, in my OC Weekly review of Trade Food Hall in Irvine, I described Hiro Nori Craft Ramen as "soon-to-be-famous". It was new at the time, and I ate there the week it opened, but even then I realized how special it was. Not only was their signature tonkotsu ramen already fully realized--complete with thick and toothsome noodles akin to Kitakata that swam in a milky soup that's as rich but not as salty as Santoka--they also seem to have everything else figured out.

Like a Swiss watch, all the pieces ticked in perfect coordination with each other. The service was efficient, but so was the kitchen. It was all I needed to see to justify the 15% tip they automatically add to the bill.

I recently returned with friends who happen to be vegetarian. We all tried the vegan ramen. And I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't taste it myself, but I liked it even better than the pork. The broth is ultra savory, an umami concentrate. Only when I thought about it really hard and purposely swirled the soup in my mouth like a wine taster did I even notice it was meatless.

For sure, there was miso in it, a splash of chili oil, and a stock that must have taken years to formulate; but the sum of its parts accumulated into one of the most satisfying ramen experience I've had in years. To be clear: This wasn't just a great bowl of vegan ramen; It was a great bowl of ramen. Period.

The soy meat, roasted broccolini, creamy cubes of tofu, and that addictive chili paste they provide on the side was, at that point, all icing on a very well-crafted cake.

It was also on the visit that I noticed what I saw that first week wasn't a fluke. Every aspect of the restaurant was still professionally-managed and completely thought through. To avoid cross-contamination and confusion, all the bowls are color-coded according to what broth filled them. Refills of water happened without me even noticing. And the reservation system makes sense and works with minimal fuss.

I was most impressed when we got the bill. We asked if we could split it four ways with all different credit cards, the waiter hardly blinked when he said "of course!", which, I don't have to tell you, speaks volumes.

HiroNori Craft Ramen
2222 Michelson Dr #234
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 536-5800

Casa Barilla - Costa Mesa


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