ramen mottainai: solid is as solid does
A few months ago, I got to talking with a couple of Japanese dudes at a bar about their impending ramen venture, a shop in Gardena opening in cahoots with Takaraya, a prominent Kyoto noodle maker. In truth, I had already caught wind of the place on the L.A. ramen grapevine, though my anticipation was muted. Quite a few new joints have been popping up in Southern California lately; from Irvine’s Mizuki to Little Tokyo’s Genkotsu Ramen, most have simply elicited a “meh,” and I was honestly prepared for disappointment.
Ramen Mottainai soft-opened for business at the beginning of the month; I was you-know-where at the time, and so I quite couldn’t make it to the restaurant on opening day. Upon returning from Japan, I tend to avoid noodles for a while in favor of some healthy vegan fare, mostly to offset weeks of gluttonous slurping. But Stateside ramen is just so mazui in comparison to what you might find in Tokyo that aside from a few preferrred joints, I’m usually not in the mood to eat much of the stuff anyway.
Tucked away in a corner of the Marukai Pacific Square shopping center, Mottainai’s ramen, I’m happy to report, is solid even in the immediate wake of a trip to Japan. I mentioned this to head chef Tadanori Akasaka and he was all smiles. A youngish, friendly guy from Sapporo, he’s very much a student of the game, one who has worked in ramen shops both in Japan and abroad, namely at the well-regarded Benkei in Vancouver.
Now normally, I’d give a restaurant some time to get their act together before posting a review, but with Mottainai, Akasaka has got the ramen right straight out of the gate with a deceptively simple menu that features for now, but three types of ramen, gyoza, extra toppings and a couple of add-on flavor pastes.
But that’s the way it ought to be. As with all good ramen shops, the devil is in the details. Significantly, Mottainai’s miso ramen soup is kogashi or slightly burnt, and exudes a fragrant, charred aroma; it’s a distant if less dramatic cousin to the miso ramen found at Tokyo’s famed Gogyou, and something you might find in one of Sapporo’s Ramen Yokocho alleyway miso shops.
The shoyu-tonkotsu ramen is likewise as authentic as they come; done in the classic Yokohama ie-kei style, it boasts thick, chewy noodles and a hefty, porky broth. Only the shoyu ramen could stand a touch more depth and sweetness, but I suspect that if you throw in one of the aforementioned pastes, or “magic bombs” as the restaurant touts them, you’d be more than good to go. There’s the “red,” a spicy miso paste redolent of Ryu Shan Hai in Yamagata, Japan, and the “white,” a mixture of garlic and seabura, or minced pork fat. Nobody said this was healthy eating.
Given the shop’s noodle-making pedigree, the noodles are much as you would find them in Japan, chewy, white, and full of spine to the bite, though they tend to fall on the slippery side of the spectrum. There are even two types, thin strands for the shoyu ramen, and thicker ones for the miso and shoyu-tonkotsu. Nobu, the waiter whom I’d met at that bar some months prior, mentioned that they’re in the process of installing an in-house noodle-making machine, but are simply waiting on the permits to clear.
With a succulent and flavorful chashu and a sweet bamboo menma topping, legit comparisons between Mottainai and ramen shops in Japan are well, almost too much to bear. Apparently, they’ll be unveiling tsukemen dipping noodles in the weeks to come; perhaps I won’t have to go to Japan for ramen anymore. Nah, who am I kidding? But about that vegetarian diet…
|a fragrant, burnt miso kogashi soup steals the show, but the yokohama ie-kei style shoyu tonkotsu is no slouch either. the shoyu isn't bad, but could be a little fuller-flavored. either way, two out of three already make for a definite winner.||8.5|
|backed by kyoto's takara noodle company, the strands at mottainai are solid, if somewhat slippery. are they currently importing them from japan? will things change when they install an in-house noodle machine? the ie-kei noodles could be even thicker still, but they're good, and things are looking up.||7|
|the succulent, soft chashu would survive in japan. if you like your menma on the sweet side, mottainai is for you. the spicy miso paste adds a welcome, authentic kick, and the seabura garlic flavor pastes is awesome if you hate your arteries.||8|
|mottainai's gyoza are expertly grilled. the meat and vegetable filling is a touch soft whereas i typically like my gyoza plump and firmer, but the flavor is all there.||7|
|clean lines, a long wooden counter, and a no-frills, modern space make mottainai a very welcome place to hang. the restaurant doesn't have a sign up yet, but keep an eye out; it's tucked away in the southwest corner of marukai pacific square.||5|
|lots of ramen shops have been cropping up in southern california lately. mottainai and its legit, detail-oriented bowls of ramen are a welcome addition on the noodling scene.||8|
1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Suite 9