Expectations were high. Maybe too high for this really good ramen chain from Japan.
I was excited about my first visit to the new Ramen Nagi US location in Palo Alto. The Yelp reviews are stellar, and this company has a great reputation in Japan. So expectations were high.
I arrived 25 minutes before its noon opening on a sunny Saturday, and there were at least 20 people in line before me. Within minutes there were 15 people behind me. A staffer handed out their menu/preference sheet and explained how it all worked.
At noon exactly, the doors opened. Very efficient and friendly staff. The restaurant is modern with comfortable seating – all with padded backs! Many ramen shops have hard, backless seating, so this was a welcome touch.
I sat at the counter and was immediately impressed by the variety of condiments. Six of them: very hot pepper mixed with greens, sweet bean sprouts, vinegar, a sesame seed grinder, and two pepper shakers with different degrees of heat. Also on the counter was a tissue dispenser, a common replacement for napkins in some Japan shops, and a self-service carafe of water.
I started with the (pork) gyoza, as usual. They were excellent, all six of them presented in a light, crusty shell top (I was hungry and forgot to take a photo).
I ordered the Original King, their basic signature tonkatsu ramen, and ordered pork belly instead of chashu. The broth was very good, flavorful though not particularly complex. The noodles were fresh and firm, as ordered, though didn’t have much personality or distinct flavor. The pork belly was tasty and moist, though a bit dry in a few places. I was looking for a layer of fat in the pork belly, though there was none. No egg included in main bowl.
I found myself experimenting with the condiments to spike the flavors. (Are condiments to ramen, like mustard/ketchup are to burgers? For some reason, I’ve started my ramen journey thinking the bowl – as served – should stand alone. More on condiments in a future post.)
I enjoyed this ramen. It was really good. And it wasn’t special. I say this with some reservation. Because my expectations were so high, I was expecting special. Plus, in looking at some of the other bowls coming out of the kitchen – they looked quite elaborate (black squid ink and others) – I think I will give Nagi another try with my Ramen Clubbers before drawing a final conclusion. So consider this review #1. For now, Nagi is certainly recommended.
Ramen Club 5-Star Rating System:
Food: 3.75 stars
Service: 4 stars
Atmosphere/Comfort: 4.25 stars
Ramen Nagi USA website: https://ramennagiusa.com