新眞々 shin mama ramen: onomichi mon amour
When last I limped into Shin Mama Ramen, I was nursing a flu that had somehow blossomed in the ten minute drive from LAX down to the South Bay. A dear friend had been visiting from Japan; to offset a week of Disneyland, cheeseburgers, and all-American dining, I was determined to reward myself with a bowl of Hiroshima-style onomichi ramen. And so there I sat, with my fever mounting and my bones beginning to ache, in blissful communion with my noodles and relishing every moment I could still taste the subtle, seabura-laden nuances of that distinctive chicken and fish stock soup, quite possibly the most under-appreciated in town.
The restaurant is a low-key affair hidden in a strip mall with a monstrous parking lot and a Home Depot. Shin Mama advertises primarily in local Japanese-language papers, and I’ve never seen the place more than half-full. It’s a shame really, because their gimmick is a good one: they have a rotating “specials” menu based loosely on Japan’s various regional noodle styles; every month or two they’ll change up the offerings, which are often presented on the colorful display board as an Iron Chef-style grudge match between pairs (“Kumamoto Ramen vs. Nagasaki Champon!”) and limited to a set number of bowls per day.
Shin Mama’s onomichi ramen started out this way. An obscure and little-known style of noodles from Eastern Hiroshima prefecture, the restaurant has apparent ties to the region, and long ago began serving it as a specialty item. A few years on, it’s popularity among diners has earned it a spot on the regular menu; now, it’s boldly and permanently displayed alongside such generic favorites like curry and mabo ramen and yakisoba.
Clearly, it is the crown jewel of the menu, and it’s all in the details, combining an extremely light chicken and fish broth with barely a hint of shoyu flavoring, thin, graceful noodles, and a sincere attempt at hanjuku, or half-boiled egg. A pinch of kaiware radish sprouts stack atop tender kurobuta chashu and sprinklings of seabura, or diced pork fat, balance out the delicate nature of the ramen with a hint of decadence.
It’s not quite the best ramen around. Although the onomichi soup is meant to be sappari, or light tasting, it’s a tad understructured, a distant, if slightly less accomplished cousin to the full-flavored shoyu ramen at Kahoo in San Jose. And while North American operations like Santouka take the regional authenticity crown these days, Shin-Mama’s specialty hews truest to what you might find if you were walking the streets of Chuugoku, the “middle country,” from Fukuyama to Hiroshima City. That it can be had in L.A., in this Disneyfied land of cheeseburgers and all-American dining, is something of a miracle.
|onomichi ramen features a delicate and light sappari soup made of chicken, fish, and only rarely, pork bones combined with a subtle shoyu base. shin mama's version is good, sprinkled with chunks of seabura fat, but a bit understructured. still, it's like nothing else in town.||6.5|
|thin, firm yellow noodles have enough spring and bite to be inoffensive. possibly proprietary and definitely a cut above the usual generic imported ramen noodles that many shops use.||5|
|one of the few shops in north america that puts effort into preparing semi-boiled shoyu eggs. it's two minutes past perfection, but still, it's a good effort. radish sprouts and decent kurobuta chashu round out a better than average topping experience.||5|
|the gyoza, though small, are nicely done, with crisped skins and full, plump, fillings.||4.5|
|i've never seen the place more than half-full. but even then, shin mama ramen has got a nice vibe to it. mood lighting casts a healthy glow over everything at night. it's a simple square box of a ramen shop, but they've done a better job decorating than most. heck, they try. most places don't even bother.||3.5|
|this little ramen shop, tucked away in a nondescript corner of the Torrance suburbs, has a lot going for it. it's under the radar and underappreciated, and definitely deserves acclaim for its attempts at regional ramen.||5.5|
24631 Crenshaw Bl #K
11:30am - 2:30pm (M-F)