Tuesday, March 22, 2011


What does this have to do with sound, you ask? Nothing - other than two composers and sound geeks who slurp and talk shop. Perhaps at the core, a good ramen is like a perfectly engineered mix - everything 'in the pocket' as we like to say. A crappy bowl is like hearing that one bad snare hit or reed squawk and you're puking, right? Don't you dare mention those freeze-dried packets of hell that grocery stores so flippantly call ramen.

I admit I have a terrible addiction... far worse than any recreational drug. I crave ramen. Ramen, you ask? Why yes, says I. After having spent 5 months of my life living in Tokyo (spread out over 27 trips) I developed quite a taste for the stuff - often leading to late night treks to the local ramen-ya. The stress of having the mouse as a boss led me to it - you try getting stuck on a boat for 2 hours with "it's a small world" looping once every 47 seconds. You would take the train for 20 miles every night, too.

Now, here's the freaky part: Orange County is home to some ultra-authentic, relapse-inducing, and ridiculously soul-satisfying bowls of heavenly noodles. I'm not kidding when I say it is as good here as it is in Japan. Yep... seemingly soul-less OC has repented. I also now have an anteater for a boss - and it's not as desperate a situation.

Over the past year, I've found a kindred spirit in fellow CTSA faculty member, Alan Terricciano. He's a serious foodie and we both suffer from major withdrawal if we don't honor our tradition of Friday noodle slurping. Ramen Quest is what we call it. Here is the best of what we have found (in my order, not necessarily Alan's):

1. Santouka. 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626. Nestled deep inside the Mitsuwa Japanese Market off of Bristol on Paularino. Look for the long line. My favorite, hands-down, is the shio (salt ramen) with cha-shu pork. The pork is pork-belly that has been simmered until unrecognizable and dissolves in your mouth. The broth is rich with just a hint of oil on top (it keeps the noodles from sticking). Get there right at 11:30 to beat the rush. The order and pickup counter is brusk and militaristic: kind of what I imagine a McDonalds deep inside an eastern-block communist nation would have been like. But they have awesome plastic demo food in a showcase.

2. Ajisen. 2700 Alton Parkway, Irvine, 92606. Located inside the Diamond Jamboree Mall at the corner of Alton and Jamboree. Their broth is ridiculous - it has been simmered so long that the proteins break down into a milky white color. My favorite is the Curry Beef Ramen. It is the most aromatic soup I have ever experienced - but the amount of curry taste is just right. Comforting. My second favorite is the Pork Ribs Ramen. It has big chunks of meat with magic little nubs of cartilage that has been simmered to the point they turn gelatinous. The service is authentically bad, though - just like in Tokyo the waiters are simply a conduit from the kitchen to your table and things come out in meaningless order.

3. Shin Sen Gumi. 18315 Brookhurst, Fountain Valley 92708. A little hard to find inside the Fountain Valley Promenade since it doesn't face the street. This is the place to quell the most persnickety and finicky eaters -- you can order your ramen as if you are ordering a new BMW. There is a list of options: broth strength, noodle firmness, amount of oil, along with a list of toppings. Amazing! They will also top off your broth with fresh noodles for $1. By far, the best noodles of all the OC ramen-yas.

4. Kohryu. 891 Baker St. #B21, Costa Mesa, 92626. A new favorite. Spicy Miso Ramen is where it is at. They deep fry green onions which gives the broth an almost french onion soup taste. Just the perfect amount of heat - with that slow and warm after-burn. Haphazard service here, too... it goes with the territory.

The quest is not over... more to come as we expand our circle of yum.

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