Quick! What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "Adams Morgan" in D.C.? Jumbo slice? It was jumbo slice, wasn't it? Unsurprising considering that shoving a tray-sized slice of greasy, flavorless "pizza" in your face at 3 a.m. is probably the last conscious memory for many after a night out on 18th Street. Fortunately, newcomer Sakuramen offers a new option for hungry Adams Morgan revelers.
D.C. has a marked dearth of quality ramen shops. There are a handful of spots if you're really craving it, but they're mostly unremarkable or a nightmare to get a table at (I'm looking at you Toki Underground). The addition of Sakuramen, who opened its doors last week, brings new hope of a quality bowl.
The name "Sakuramen" is an amalgam of sakura (Japanese for cherry blossom) and ramen. Like its name, Sakuramen's offerings are a hybrid of Korean, Japanese, and Chinese cuisine. The owners, Jonathan Cho and Jay Park, are both of Korean descent and it shows in their menu. They offer soy, miso, and kombu (a kind of kelp) broths with standard ramen toppings like extra chashu, but their heritage comes through with the inclusion of bulgogi (thinly sliced ribeye) and kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), both Korean staples. Cho's recommended ramen is their Chosun bowl ($13), so named for a historic Korean dynasty: a soy ramen topped with bulgogi and slow roasted kimchi, which is a little lighter than the Sakuramen ($11) bowl of kombu broth, which is quite different from the more traditional tonkotsu and miso broths. Cho likes to keep the cuts of pork on the lean side for health reasons, but I assured him I'd gladly shave a few years off my life to have some pork fat in my ramen.
One of the most encouraging things about Sakuramen is Cho's earnest enthusiasm. He takes pride in sourcing as many local ingredients as he possibly can (the portobello mushrooms are brought in from Lancaster County, PA) and spoke fondly of the fact that his own mother comes in to make the kimchi a few times a week (is there anything more authentic than a Korean grandmother making kimchi?). He greets guests personally and takes the time to answer questions and tell the story of Asian folk hero "Shoki," of whom there is a mural near the front door.
Cho plans on experimenting with and expanding upon the menu ahead of the official grand opening next month. They'll be adding a tonkotsu ramen, among other things, and adding late night service (a must for Adams Morgan). Sakuramen currently doesn't have a liquor license (given the moratorium in D.C.), but Cho's arranged for a 15% discount at Rumba's bar next door for those waiting for a table.
Sakuramen isn't Ippudo, but it doesn't have to be. Given the current state of ramen in D.C., Sakuramen's soft open last week is a step in the right direction for the city. If nothing else, once it introduces late-night hours, expect to hear fewer drunken Jumbo Slice stories and more involving latenight ramen.