Before entering a traditional ramen house there is a certain level of etiquette that should be understood. Speed is the name of the game. Once you are served your brim- ming bowl of soup it’s time to go to town otherwise the noodles lose their intended consistency and you’ve now disrespected the kitchen and disgraced your family name.
Perhaps that is an overstatement, but there’s nothing lackadaisical about the expe- rience. Chopsticks in one hand, forearm planted around the bowl prison-style, find your focus and commence by fishing out as many noodles as you can. Slurp till your eyes roll into the back of your head and never look up! Ramen is no good leftover, so it’s just you and your brimming bowl of umami to the end.
There is nothing quite like burying your head in a bowl full of ramen bliss. Just not here in Santa Monica.
As diverse as our city by the sea is for for- eign fare, if you want quality ramen you’ll have to look elsewhere. While all roads lead to Sawtelle Boulevard (Little Osaka) there is a low-key spot just East of town called Kotoya. Tucked away in a mini-mall, the din- ing room is limited to a handful of tables and a bar, so the space fills up fast. There can be a bit of a wait during peak hours, but nothing compared to other ramen hot-spots that can have you sitting around for 30 to 40 minutes. Kotoya is under the radar and that’s just as well.
The menu is a bit convoluted and a little daunting for a ramen rookie, but the servers will happily break it down as they have on multiple occasions for myself. There is prob- ably a ramen for you depending on your preference.
The lightest ramen is their vegetarian variety. The broth is clear as pho but loaded with veggies and noodles. It lacks the depth and richness of a traditional ramen but also lacks the fat and sodium punch as well. Veggie ramen is a rare find around town.
The richest ramen is certainly the miso.
With a consistency thicker than milk, but thinner than gravy, Koyota’s miso ramen’s fatty opaque broth will cling to every noodle slurped, glisten the lips and stick to your ribs. Add some sweet corn to this particular bowl to cut into all that savory goodness. Consider the shoyu and shio ramen lighter alternatives, but not by much.
There is a spicy variety as well with heat levels ranging from 1 to 3. The spices render a rich red broth that, in my opinion, over- powers all the other flavors and that was just a level two. Some people swear by it though. I’d pair it with as many beers as possible.
Aside from the vegetarian, all of Kotoya’s ramen is tonkotsu (pork based broth) that includes green onions, bamboo chutes, nori, bean sprouts, and a sizable piece of pork chashu (Roasted pork belly). The chashu is extremely tender and a real highlight.
Of course the hallmark of a good bowl of ramen starts with quality noodles. While Kotoya’s noodles are fairly thin they still have an elastic bounce and an al dente mouth feel. That is as long as you devour them in frenetic fashion.
Extra add-ons like the usually standard boiled egg can get annoying and ultimately tack on to a fairly pricey bowl of soup. Even if it costs a little more (depending on the amount of upgrades) Kotoya is worth skip- ping a wait in line at some of the other ramen hot spots for an equal if not better bowl.
MICHAEL can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/grease- week.