While the city's ramen culture is just beginning to flourish, San Mateo's ramen scene is leaping ahead with a modern variant of ramen.
One-month old Ramen Parlor is the latest ramen venture from chef-owner Kazunori Kobayashi, whose San Mateo ramen empire includes the legendary Santa Ramen (at 1944 South El Camino Real), which features traditional ramen styles (soy sauce, miso, and tonkotsu), and the 2010 sensation Ramen Dojo (at 805 South B Street), the Bay Area's first and only "stamina ramen" shop (a derivation of Taiwan Ramen from Nagoya, this style became popular throughout Japan during the 80s).
Ramen Parlor's new seafood-style modern ramen follows the latest trend in Japan, in which flavors are layered to create richer, more complex broths. The leader of this style of ramen is Tokyo-based chef Keisuke Takeda, who uses his French culinary training for his consommé style prawn-based stock. In the US, another example of this trend is Hawaiian chef D.K. Kodama's Dungeness crab ramen with a truffled butter pork-based broth.
Kobayashi pairs robust versions of his standard broths ($9.50, choice of soy sauce, miso, or tonkotsu) with a layer of lobster oil. Each bowl contains two slices of pork belly chasu, bacon bits, chopped white onions, broccolini, green chives, kikurage, sliced shiitake mushrooms, crushed spices for accent (red pepper plus seaweed, sesame or chili powder), and topped with a single garlic shrimp on the shell.
You can add extra toppings ($1-$4.50) to your ramen bowl and/or extra noodles for $1.50; customers concerned about ramen saltiness often chose to add corn ($1). We liked our bowl as is.
The list of ingredients sound like they belong in a salad, but the textures and flavors work well together. The trick is that the action of digging for the noodles starts mixing all the elements in the bowl. So once you go for the soup, every spoonful has goodies in it. We happily finished off every last drop of the rich broth.
We can almost hear the grumbles of old-school ramen purists. Still, we stand by our assessment that this ramen is remarkable.
Kobayashi is not deaf to criticism. Customer feedback triggered two minor modifications during the second week open, adding a quail egg (to match nearby Ramen Dojo) and a single green leaf lettuce to tone down the perceived saltiness.
The dinner menu features a wider selection of appetizers including yakitori ($1.95-$3.25 per stick), a few salads, fried items, and plates of sliced meats. One dish stood out as a winner. The chicken karaage (with daikon radish sauce, $6.95) appetizer is scrumptious, and easily surpasses Kobayashi's old version at Santa Ramen.
On the menu, Abomasum (or "fourth stomach," pronounced Akasen or Giara in Japanese) yakitori caught our attention -- a super fatty and delicious cut rarely offered in the US. But our hopes were quickly dashed when we noticed that the Japanese characters said Mino ("first stomach," also known as beef tripe or rumen). Well, minor menu translation errors are nothing new.
Our favorite skewer was the beef tongue. The beef tripe was good too, tender and with crisp edges.
There were no lines during any of our visits. That might change soon, after customers waiting in line at Ramen Dojo realize that Ramen Parlor is just half a block away.
901 South B St.
San Mateo, CA 94401
Hours: Wed.-Mon. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30-9:15 p.m., Closed Tuesdays.