Two New(ish) Ramens Worth Slurping in Seattle's Other Japantown
While Seattle's original Japantown is in the International District, I've written about how the Wallingford neighborhood is quickly becoming a bit of a culinary Nihonmachi (Japantown), anchored by Musashi's sushi at one end and Miyabi 45th's soba at the other. In the strip of Japanese restaurants in between, there are two ramen joints worth investigating.
4649 Restaurant (aka "Yoroshiku," which is a way to read the numbers aloud, and translates to "pleased to meet you") opened in late 2012, but recently upped its game by making ramen the focus for lunch, and serving only half-bowls for dinner, when the menu turns more izakaya-style. Shio and shoyu ramen are available, but as the restaurant is influenced by Hokkaido, Miso Ramen ($9.50) is the one you want. Quality has improved substantially since the the restaurant switched gears, with good depth of earthy flavor from the miso. Kudos for the steaming broth, which is a pleasant departure from the many Seattle restaurants who are apparently unable to send out a legitimately hot bowl.
The chashu (braised pork) is quite good, with a decent amount of fat, though if you want more than the one small slice that comes with the regular order, you'll need to upgrade to the meatier chashu-men, with four slices for $12. Typical of miso ramen, this comes with moyashi (blanched bean sprouts), menma (seasoned bamboo shoots), and corn (adding sweetness), but no pat of butter. Green onions (cut a little large for my taste) and ito togarashi (shredded chili pepper garnish) top the bowl. Egg lovers can add a soy-marinated, soft-boiled one for $1.50. But I'd stick with the regular noodles instead of upgrading to the locally hand-made ones; their chewiness doesn't warrant the $1.50 upcharge.
Steps away from 4649 sits Ramen Man, a newish restaurant from the izakaya chef at local favorite Issian. There's a very limited menu, which I find desirable in a ramen shop, with a focus on tori-paitan ramen. Paitan is Chinese, with "pai" meaning "white" and "tan" meaning "broth," the goal being a kotteri (thick and rich) milky broth made by boiling animal bones—in this case "tori" (chicken)—instead of the pork that makes the popular tonkotsu broth.
I ordered the Original Tori-Paitan Ramen ($8.50), and it's mission accomplished—the broth is extremely creamy and full of chicken flavor. You'll likely want to add pickled ginger to cut the fatty richness. The ramen comes with kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), onion chips, and thin slices of green onions, plus a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Each bowl has two slices of chashu, one chicken and one pork. (As at 4649, you can upgrade to a meatier "char siu" version for $3 more.) For me, the meat is too lean (and cold), though those who are looking for a lighter alternative to tonkotsu ramen may appreciate this. The noodles are the thin variety—not my favorite, but typical of the broth style. In an interesting twist, you can order as many hard-boiled eggs as you'd like. Most people eat them on the side, but you can also put them in the broth, though note that peeling the eggs takes time, which will make your broth colder (the bowls come quickly but not as hot as I'd like) and noodles softer.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.