Saturday, June 2, 2012
Washington, DC 20009
An interesting thing happened when I went to eat at Sakuramen. As I was leaving, I ran into one of the owners outside (Jonathan) and he asked me how I liked the food. I told him I enjoyed it and we ended up chatting a bit about NYC noodle shops like Ippudo and Momofuku. He really paid homage to David Chang for paving the way for places like Sakuramen and I would have liked to talk a bit longer but we got interrupted by a woman looking to get paid back a debt by one of Jonathan's former employees. I'm not sure that worked out well for her. I shook his hand, excused myself and went to get a black and white milkshake down the street.
Sakuramen has gotten a ton of hype and publicity from several blogs and foodie websites. It's only been open a little over a week but the word seems like it's gotten out about this place. It's located along the main strip in Adams Morgan and I went there for a late lunch. I have great memories of Adams Morgan (especially a Italian place called Pasta Mia) and I wish I could tell you what's changed but I think it's been over 10 years since I've been there and I don't think I've ever been there in the daytime. The neighborhood reminds me of a wider St. Mark's Place in NYC with eclectic shops, hookah bars, and ethnic restaurants teeming with character. There was even some sort of open call audition across the street from the restaurant with a line of what looked like girls from rap videos around the corner (sorry forgot to take a pic).
The choices for buns were Chashu, Bulgogi and Shroom Buns. I went the more familiar route with the Chashu (pork buns) which had roasted pork and scallions. You can't help compare places like this to Momofuku but I don't think you should because while the food looks similar, it is very different. Sakuramen is more of a traditional take on this type of cuisine while David Chang likes to freelance so I think there is definitely room in the food spectrum for both. What I liked best about these buns is the the bun itself was thinner than usual which allowed the filling to shine through more. At first I thought that the ratio between scallions and pork was too skewed towards the scallions but the bite and flavor the scallions added made me crave for more of it. I thought the pork was nicely roasted and appropriately rich and savory. The one thing I wish was different was for the pork to be sliced thicker (I think they used it both in the buns and ramen and thinner slices are more appropriate for the ramen) so that your bites have a bit more of that juiciness.
Full Key or somewhat at Momofukiu. The noodles were rice noodles versus egg noodles and I find the broth cleaner in this case. Regardless, this bowl of ramen still satisfied my ramen craving. From the bamboo shoots (big fan!) to the seaweed, there was an abundance of flavor in this ramen. The one thing I do wish I did was add a soft boiled egg to the ramen for that extra richness. On a side note, I haven't been to a ton of ramen places so maybe this is a normal thing but I really liked the wooden handles ladle/spoon they give you to drink up the ramen. Usually, you're stuck with those small porcelain Chinese soup spoons which are not sufficient at all so I was pleasantly surprised to have such an appropriate utensil for a noodle house.
I decided to try their Gyoza which were handmade dumplings. You could choose to have them steamed or fried and I've always preferred steamed dumplings. Like everything else, the presentation of the dumplings was beautiful and while they filled me up, I have to say that they didn't do much more than that. They were topped by some small pieces of scallions which had some nice flavor but the pork filling inside was a bit too flavorless for me. It may be that they should be in soup or something where it could be infused with flavor but standalone in a steamed dumpling, it was under-seasoned and just plain.
One of the things Jonathan remarked to me when I told him I lived in NYC was, "So, you know real ramen then?". I said, "I don't know about that..." and I don't. I do know, through the years, that I've been to a ton of noodle shops from Toronto to NYC to DC and I've grown to love noodle soups. I have to say, from my experiences, that Sakuramen does it about as good as any I've sampled and while I miss lining up and eating at Momofuku, I'd argue that Sakuramen can be every bit as good as that East Village staple. I know that I'll be visiting frequently and hopefully next time I can thank the owner for giving me such great insight.