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Ramen Memories

There are ups and downs to ultimate eating experiences. The up is in the moment. The down is when you start to compare every similar dish to that moment.

One of my recent ultimate eating experiences took place on a trip to Tokyo, my new favorite city. Weather-wise, it was a relatively miserable early afternoon—rainy and blustery, and unseasonably cold. In other words, it was meant for soup. After waiting in a long, but fast-moving line at a popular ramen stand located right outside of the Tsukiji Market, my traveling companions chef Joseph Manzare (Globe and Tres Agaves) and Jared Rivera (his good-times publicist) and I brought our bowls of ramen to a table, wet with rain. (Details about this trip are forthcoming in a feature I’m working on for the magazine.) We stood at the edge of the overhead, cold raindrops hitting our shoulders and steam warming our face. We were hung over from jet lag and truthfully, too much sake. I felt more than a little tender. It was the first thing I’d eaten that day.

As for the ramen, the broth was delicate, the noodles were cooked just right and topped with a smattering of green onions and two, thick and tender slices of pork shoulder that took over the entire bowl … (These are the moments that make writers veer into the realm of nauseating food porn, so I’m going to stop while I’m ahead. Just know it was ridiculously delicious—the whole moment I mean.)


Asuka Ramen (soy broth on the bottom, miso broth on the top).

Flash forward to last Friday, when I lunched at Asuka Ramen (883 Bush St., 415-567-3153), which opened just a few days ago in the TenderNob. SF has long been a dry town when it comes to ramen—especially good ramen—but luckily there’s a shift in the works. A handful of relative newcomers include Watami, Genki Ramen, Katana-Ya, Halu and of course, Asuka. In the minty-green space, I ordered ramen with soy broth. The pork was tender and flavorful and came with a float of half a poached egg. It was really nice ramen. But I kept having flashbacks to Tokyo that I couldn't shake—a cruel and unusual comparison. Honestly, the best ramen couldn’t have added up to that ramen in Tokyo, which inevitably will become even more romanticized in my mind as it gets farther away.

All this reminded me that food is never experienced in a vacuum. Food tastes like it does for so many reasons, the majority of them very personal. Maybe half of it has to do with the cook’s actual talent. It’s about the place, the time, the day, the moment, your mood, the company you’re with. This is my problem with restaurant reviews—should critics include stars for all these things? Michael: What do you think?