Pork shu mai
Everyone has their own favorite ramen shop, and judging from how often the subject comes up on sites like Chowhound LA and LA Foodblogging, it seems to be a hotly contested topic.
Back in November 2005, restaurant ramen (as opposed to grocery store ramen) was totally new to me. My visit to Ramenya marked my fourth restaurant ramen experience. I was pretty sure that nothing could top Asahi, but in the name of research and leaving no Sawtelle stone unturned, I had to try Ramenya.
My first two visits failed because I kept wanting to go on Wednesdays, when they're closed. The good news is that they don't close between lunchtime and dinnertime, so a late Sunday lunch was a piece of cake. Even at 2:00 pm, the restaurant was full, leaving us to sit at the counter--not the nicest seats in the house, but it was just lunch.
Spicy eggdrop ramen with ground pork
Ramenya has around twenty ramen options. While there are a lot of choices, most of them didn't sound that appetizing, maybe because many were described as having soy sauce broth (how is that different from watery soy sauce, I wondered?). Only a few choices are spicy, and I wanted spicy, so I picked the spicy eggdrop ramen. I'd never had egg drop soup before, so that was a bit of a gamble. The broth was good, as long as I avoided the egg part, which tended to form a gooey skin across the top of the soup. The noodles were firmer than Chabuya's, but not as firm as Asahi's. I didn't eat much of the pork, and I wasn't that satisfied with my selection overall.
Ajo (garlic, in Spanish) ramen.
Based on my friend's bowl of ajo ramen, I'm not sure another choice would have been any better. He thought that the noodles were good, but that the broth was only passable, though adding chili oil greatly enhanced it. The garlic was okay--but who wants to eat hunks of garlic? If you don't like onions, and a lot of people don't, the large onions that disguise themselves amongst the noodles can be problematic. The soup was light on the meat, but that was okay as it was pretty bland meat. The best part about both soups was that the spoons have notches in them so you can rest them on the edge of the soup bowl without them falling in. Smart.
There are also several side dishes on the menu. I ordered the pork shu mai in case I didn't like my ramen. I liked the nose-burning hot mustard they came with--I mixed it with some soy sauce and rice vinegar (on the table, along with chili oil--the staple condiments of any ramen shop) and made a nice dipping sauce. The meat wasn't as tender as I expected, though, so I wasn't impressed or excited. The pork shu mai at Chabuya, by contrast, are quite tasty.
View from behind the counter
Ramenya is a very stark restaurant--the walls are white and there isn't really any decor to speak of. The ceilings are high and the restaurant gets lots of sunlight through its glass storefront during the day, but that isn't enough to give it atmosphere. Like most Sawtelle restaurants, it's very small--just one room and 10-15 tables for two or four guests. One nice touch is that Ramenya serves iced tea for free. The flavor reminded me of unsweetened Thai iced tea without the milk--if you've ever made it at home and brewed the tea yourself, you'll know what I mean. If you haven't, the flavor isn't dramatically different from regular iced tea--it's a bit stronger, with a hint of smokiness. Some of us can't handle caffeine though, so I only had a few sips. I wasn't missing much, but I still appreciated the gesture.
I don't plan to go back to Ramenya--I guess I'll have to wait in line at Asahi from now on.
If you've been to Ramenya, how was your experience? Leave a comment!
11555 West Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064