香風 kahoo ramen: the boy's wonder
It’s a truly great feeling to have your expectations upended. Like meeting that certain someone “unlike all the rest,” that she (or he) who puts knots in your stomach and makes you run for the bathroom when six days are up and it’s finally time to phone her for a date. And should you manage to fumble through a tongue-tied (but ultimately successful) conversation - oh what a rush! Sort of like downing a bowl of shoyu ramen at Kahoo in San Jose.
You see, for the better part of the forty minutes I was there, a mere six days after their grand opening, I sat hypnotized by the movements of the silent, silver-haired man in white methodically slicing chunks of tender pork belly, preparing ingredients for stock and fondling eggs destined to realize their potential as soft-boiled hanjuku tamago atop glistening, fat-laden bowls of the best shoyu ramen in the Bay Area, if not the world outside of Japan.
But first, some perspective. I drained the whole bowl of Kahoo’s shoyu that very afternoon. Yet I was not the least bit hungry going in, full from an absolute abortion of a lunch at Ryowa just fifteen minutes prior. (Nota bene: don’t ever try to cram six meals worth of ramen into a two-day road trip when you’re a one or two meal-a-day kinda guy.) “I think I can do one more shop,” I boasted to my friend.
“Yeah, I’m going to sit this one out,” he replied, and dropped me off on the way to buy some LAN cable or something - whatever engineers in the Silicon Valley do.
Most of the food writers on my radar, from prize-winning journalists to everyday bloggers, tend to value anonymity, at the very least to avoid preferential treatment by the restaurants they review. This particular rameniac prefers to make an obvious ass of himself, snapping away with the digicamu until he gets yelled at or asked to stop, at which point he just plays his hand, often with unintended consequences.
At the end of a particularly sublime slurping session however, I may well request an audience with the ramen master and simply reveal myself like a starstruck fan eager to impress.
Such was the case at Kahoo Ramen, and when the waitress ducked into the kitchen to summon the chef, I steeled my nerves in anticipation of meeting this great zen chef.
Instead, what emerged from under the noren was one Sou Nakano, a punkish-looking Japanese dude just about my age, quite possibly younger.
A transplant from Okayama Prefecture, Nakano-san has a scant six years of restaurant experience under his belt. Six years which weren’t even spent in ramen shops. I started to prod him about the origin of Kahoo’s shoyu ramen, a remarkably vibrant bowl of noodles in a classically wafu yet modern style: a light but extremely complex shoyu broth made from chicken feet, pork, and dried fish, sprinklings of abura pork fat (all the rage in Kanto these days) and chunks of pork belly somewhere between chashu and buta kakuni.
Perhaps the ramen mastermind behind the famed Do-Henkotsu, the last ramen shop to occupy Kahoo’s space in San Jose’s Mitsuwa mini-mall, had passed on a secret, hitherto unrevealed recipe. “No, he just retired, we’re not related,” he explained.
“Is this onomichi?” I asked, noting a distinct similarity to the chicken and fish-centric ramen styles of eastern Hiroshima. “Hhonmono!” he laughed. It was a 100% original recipe, Nakano’s own creation.
I complemented the wunderkind young chef on his cooking and asked if I could take a picture of him for my website. “Thank you!” he beamed, then ripped off his apron, stuck out his chest, and proceeded to strike a series of Superman poses. The future is in good hands.
|glistening, gleaming and ragingly delectable, kahoo's shoyu soup is very light with a subtle dashi flavor and a sweetness to it all its own. it may be too subtle for some, but add a sprinkling of abura and it's very much a state-of-the-art soup that immediately conjures visions of tokyo in the springtime.||8|
|pillowy but never soggy, kahoo's thin egg noodles (they use a different type for the miso and other ramen selections) are far from generic and complement the shoyu soup quite well.||7|
|generously fatty chunks of pork belly are used in place of standard chashu, creating an awesome hybrid experience halfway to buta kakuni. a shoyu-marinated egg overshoots soft-boiled perfection by mere seconds.||7|
|as kahoo was my second lunch of the day, i didn't have it in me to power down any more side dishes. i wish i had skipped ryowa ramen altogether.||NA|
|a tiny, spartan space with japanese wood trim, they do the best they can. maybe i'm a lot more forgiving when the food is good, but hey, they opened 2 weeks after the do henkotsu closed!||2|
|i had really wanted to try do-henkotsu's tokushima ramen, but kahoo's shoyu ramen is definitely a worthy successor and quite possibly the best ramen i've had outside of japan.||5|
4330 Moorpark Avenue