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ramen mottainai: solid is as solid does

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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.

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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…

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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
Gardena CA 90247

tel: 310-538-3250

23.5
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Comments

This place is already going downhill since your previous review.  I just went yesterday and discovered that they have been cheapen out with their ingredients.  In comparison to your picture, I have realized that they give 2 slices of pork, now only 1 piece. Also:

1. The Broth were ALL luke warm when it was served (Shoyu, Miso and Tonkotsu).
2. The Broth were too Greasy, it gives nasty after taste when it was not hot.
3. The Chashu Pork was the PORKY part of the ramen. It has a strong porky after taste, makes me think they must bought some cheap pork.
4. The noodle that they used in the shoyu ramen was nice in firmness, but it taste like the ones we bought in vacuum pack.  The thicker noodle can not pick up the soup well.
5. The Gyoza has nice fillings, however it was not perfectly grilled. It was sticky so when we picked up with chopstick, it breaks easily.
6. Last but not least, the Magic “Bomb” does not make any magic when the soup is not hot.  It simply can not dissolved well in the bowl with the temperature of the soup. Its just a market gimmick.

Asides from the friendly server, I think this place has a lot of work to catch up on.  Or I believe the owner has already started changing the strategy to make the soup to increase the profits yet lose the customers.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/23 at 02:05 AM

ken, are you the one who gave them 1 star on yelp? i think it’s a bit unfair to give them a 1, especially this early in the game. they just opened 3 weeks ago for goodness sakes. by the way, you can’t really knock the noodles until they start doing them in house; they’re just waiting for the permits to clear so they can install the thing.

i agree that lukewarm broth is a definite no-no, but i have a feeling you probably went on an off night if that’s the case.

to say they’re already going downhill? that’s a bit premature.

criticism of a restaurant is fair, but i’m detecting a disproportionate amount of haterism here.

Posted by rameniac on 07/28 at 11:12 PM

I do not give 1* usually, but I do it when I feel its necessary, not because some sort of hater-ism that you mentioned.

In response to your comment, I do believe that it is fair enough to give them 1*.  The primary reason being, 4 out of 4 of us actually felt sick after we had dinner there.  Haterism? more like insanitary issue. If it happened to just 1 or 2 of us, then it may be luck. However, if all 4 of us had problems with their food, then, I can say it is more than “an off night” or something that can be tolerated/convinced due to the “soft-opening” excuses.

One last thing, if after 3 weeks of opening and still inconsistent with the quality of the food, how can you convince customers to come back?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/29 at 12:02 AM

naw, sure ken. you are absolutely entitled to your opinion. and if you had THAT bad of an experience there, to the point where your entire party got sick, that’s unfortunate.

but to me, your review simply came off unnecessarily harsh. to the point where it seemed like you had some sort of personal grudge against the restaurant.

frankly, i don’t see the need to rip on a brand new restaurant so quickly or vehemently. if a place is good, i’ll say so and help get the word out, but if it’s bad, i tend to be less vocal and simply let the business run its course. just keep in mind, there are real people behind these kitchen counters; people who are at least TRYING to offer something customers will like, people often with livelihoods and life savings at stake. i don’t think it’s necessary to be too much of a naysayer, especially this early on.

then again, if you got sick, you got sick i suppose.

Posted by rameniac on 07/30 at 01:00 AM

I like your review of Ramen most of times.
I also wrote review in my blog in Japanese though.

I wish you try someday one of those Ramen in Japan.
http://nickcave.blog59.fc2.com/blog-entry-136.html
http://nickcave.blog59.fc2.com/blog-entry-134.html

Hell of the best in JAPAN in my taste.

Posted by MeatCop on 08/04 at 10:53 PM

Went there with the wife & kids for the first time on Aug. 20th. We loved it, me more than the “Fam” but I’m the ramen lover of the family. The white bomb dissolved into the broth and added great flavor. My only dissapointment was they were out of gyoza. I am definitly going back. Another Ramen spot to add to our list:Santouka & Sanuki Sandou @ Mitsuwa in Culver City, Orochon Ramen, Ramenya, now Mottainai & counting….

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/09 at 02:02 PM

Rameniac,

Do you have any suggestions for down here in Atlanta,Ga. The only places that I come across are Pho. Help needed

Thanks

Posted by top led grow lights on 09/18 at 09:36 PM
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