First Bite: Ramen Dojo, San Mateo
I was down in San Mateo this weekend (don't ask) and as a consolation prize for spending time in the suburbs, I decided to avail myself of one of the restaurants that I've long wanted to visit but never had the occasion: Ramen Dojo. And though it's not normally our practice to write about places outside the 7x7 radius, in our August food issue, which should be on newsstands soon, we asked Richie Nakano of Hapa Ramen to tell us about some of the restaurants that influenced his own bowl of ramen. The list was long and included places in the Bay Area, LA and New York, though he made no mention of Ramen Dojo. I'm hoping it's only because he hasn't yet been—because they are serving some mighty fine bowls of noodles.
If you want to seriously geek out, go to Chowhound, where the discussion of Ramen Dojo is long and detailed. For Cliff Notes ramen eaters, I offer the following small glimpse. The compact space (home of the original Santa Ramen, this place also shares the same owners) has fewer than a dozen tables and a handful of seats at the bar, and the menu is small. Three types of broth (soybean, soy sauce and garlic pork), available in "mild spicy," "regular spicy" or "extra spicy" formulations, each bowl containing the following: al dente noodles (which soften to the perfect texture after a few minutes in the hot broth), 2-inch lengths of garlic chives, slow-roasted whole cloves of garlic, kikurage (wood-ear mushroom), a soft-boiled quail egg, two slices of pork belly, shredded red pepper and—this is the exciting part—a large spoonful of minced chicken seasoned with ginger, dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms. You can kit out your bowl with any number of extra toppings, but I tried mine in its unadulterated form. The chalkboard menu that lists all of the menu options also has this cautionary note: Our ramen is not vegetarian food. I ordered the soy sauce broth, while my partner went for the garlic pork. Her broth was richer, or course, and meatier, but it also had a creaminess I found irresistible. But the soy sauce version was no slouch, and I cleaned my bowl. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Twenty minutes later, however, as the noodles continued to expand in my stomach, I had a few serious regrets about having joined the clean-bowl club. Breakfast the following morning? Not necessary. 805 South B Street, San Mateo, 650-401-6568