A good bowl of ramen in a comfortable, well-designed setting. Order the upgrade!
The first thing I noticed upon entering Waraku is the decor. This is a real restaurant, where the owner put some thought into its look and feel, distinct from the spartan or cool design of many U.S. ramen places, where slurp-and-run is the implied message to customers. There are wood beams and panels that create architectural interest and appear authentic. The waitress confirmed they originated from a building in Japan.
The place was full, but no line. We waited just a few minutes for a table on a weekday evening. Noise level: blessedly, not too loud. And so we settled into a cozy booth.
The menu leads with two tonkotsu ramen choices (regular and roasted garlic), and also offers shoyu, veggie, spicy tan-tan and tsukemen.
David and I went for the tonkotsu, and Michael, for the shoyu. We all “upgraded” to the deluxe version with extra chashu and other ingredients.
Of course, we always start with gyoza. These were lackluster, primarily because the wrapper was thick and doughy – what you’d expect at a lesser Chinese restaurant. The filling was nice; well balanced and tasty, but could have been more flavorful.
Before I critique the ramen, I must note the condiments. In addition to the traditional chili oil and ubiquitous-in-Japan togarashi (blend of pepper flakes used like salt and pepper), there was a bowl of whole garlic cloves and a handy garlic crusher. I’ve seen raw pre-crushed garlic before, but never whole cloves.
The ramen arrived and the bowl certainly looked abundant with the upgrade to “deluxe.” I’d call the broth a standard tonkotsu: flavorful, a bit creamy, but – for me – in need of some condiments to boost the flavor. By itself, the broth wasn’t particularly complex. If you’ve had Ippudo’s tonkotsu broth before, Waraku’s will be familiar.
The noodles were good quality and sufficiently firm. The ingredients were fresh. The highlight of the bowl for me was the chashu and the braised pork belly (kakuni) that came with the upgrade. They were both tender and flavorful, with a nice char and just enough fat content.
As I neared the bottom of the bowl, I started adding condiments (I passed on the whole garlic cloves), which elevated the broth. I’m still figuring out my relationship with ramen condiments; do I always use them? At the start? Towards the end? Is my assumption that “the bowl” should stand on its own?
Though our socks remained on during the meal (😉), I’d say this is a really good bowl of ramen with high quality ingredients. And extra points for the comfort, decor and good service.
All in all, we enjoyed our meal and our time at Waraku. We will definitely go back, though with Hinodeya just around the corner, we will more consistently choose the latter.
Michael’s take on Waraku:
I went with the shoyu ramen, and actually got extra noodles – thinking they might not have enough in the standard bowl, and because I was hungry. I didn’t need them, as Waruku fills their bowls with just the right amount.
I need to take a tangent here, as it’s critical to my review. There are countless ways to make ramen, but for me, what separates the truly great Japanese style ramen from others is their attention to ingredients, and the time they put into making their base broth.
For the broth, bones are boiled for a very, very long time in water, with vegetables and spices. There simply is no sidestepping this process – although many ramen shops do so by adding flavorings after a simpler broth has been prepared. When they do this, they sacrifice depth and breadth of flavor. Waraku’s ramen is flavored by adding sauces to each bowl as they prepare it. Some people love this style of ramen – just look at the long lines at Mensho Tokyo in San Francisco. So far, I’m not a huge fan.
All that said, Waraku’s ramen is good. The noodles were a good quality, but needed to be much more al dente. They were too soft by the end of the meal. The special pork pieces they added were absolutely delicious.
As for condiments and spices at the table, when I go out to eat, I don’t want to have to spend time adding things to my meal so that it tastes right. That’s the restaurant’s job.
I’d give the food closer to 3 stars, and only that many because the special pork was really good.
Waraku website: http://www.warakuus.com
Ramen Club 5-Star Rating System:
Food: 3.25 stars
Service: 4.0 stars
Atmosphere/Comfort: 4.0 stars