2441 18th Street
Washington, DC  20009
Sakuramen on Urbanspoon

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.

The thing that struck me about the conversation is that I didn't tell him I write a food blog.  The reason being, I think, is that I'm still not sure what the f*ck I know about food.  I mean, I've eaten a lot of it, I know what flavors and tastes I like; and I even have rudimentary knowledge about ingredients.  I guess I write the blog because I want to keep a running diary of my food experiences because they resonate so much with me.  But, when I'm talking with someone who does 'food' everyday like Jonathan, it makes me doubt why I write.  However, I'm thankful for the conversation because I've been looking for my voice in this blog for a while now.  It gave me perspective that I'm still a relative novice when it comes to food and what I can do best is write about how these places affects me and my preferences.  I can leave the finer points of evaluation to the experts.

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).

Sakuramen is located on the bottom floor along this strip and if you're not looking for it, you could miss it. It's narrow and maybe seats 40 with tables on the right side and a long communal table in the middle.  The decor is reminiscent of Japan with simple lines and wood paneling.  You can tell the restaurant is still new since they had a limited amount of beverages and the waitress still had a hard time describing the differences in broth in the ramen.  Nevertheless, I hadn't eaten breakfast yet so I was pretty hungry and decided to try their buns, ramen and steamed dumplings.  In that order.  Yes, I ordered the buns and then the ramen and I was still hungry so steamed dumplings.  Yeah.  Let's not talk about it.

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.

The selection of ramen was pretty varied and while their DC Miso ramen was a creative tribute to the city and neighborhood, I didn't particularly want cheese on my ramen.  I went with the more traditional Gojiramen which had more roast pork, bamboo shoots, seaweed, sprouts, scallions and a rich chicken-based broth.  This was more of a traditional Japanese ramen was opposed to the Chinese noodle soup you find at 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.

1 comment:

  1. Delicious taste aside, the thing I like best about ramen is that you can put just about anything in it. I could literally go nuts buying meat wholesales from melbourne and I could put any cut into a bowl of hot ramen.


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