[A more recent revisit post can also be found here.]
While I found it a bit of a trek to get to the center of Torrance (distance from the freeway and also sheer traffic wise) I found Gardena much closer and slightly a bit more easy. Probably why I managed to successfully visit Ramen Mottainai three times before posting. Two were errand running side visits on the way up to L.A. but one of them I admit was a nerdy blogger type expedition. It was a lot of fun and fruited much content for future posts (one like this to Gardena Ramen). And you know what? I really like Gardena! :)
So anyway when I first read about Ramen Mottainai on Exile Kiss' blog about a month ago I definitely had put them in my queue. Then Keizo managed to fit a visit during his brief revisit to L.A. while I also somehow missed Rameniac's review altogether (I think the RSS feed isn't updating well). Anyhow I was ready than ever and set off the very next weekend.
As I've read Mottainai offers three distinctive regional styles of ramen that includes a Tokyo Shoyu, a Yokohama Ie-Kei Tonkotsu Shoyu, and a Sapporo Miso (full menu here). Oh man, what to try first...
Well I had the best seat in the house in terms of nerdy food viewing action - along the bar that faces the kitchen and is adjacent to the register. I saw three of their Yokohama Freakers come out consecutively and they looked mighty good, unapologetically greasy (at least for So. Cal. standards) where the surface of the soup crinkled like cellophane from slightly cooled oils (schmaltz in this version according to Exile Kiss).
My small hesitation was from one, I never had Ie-Kei Ramen and two, it seemed every ramen/food blogger (at least the ones I read) seems to not be a huge fan of Ie-Kei. But this Yokohama born product surely has its fan base to rise to such popularity not to mention to reach that of a recognized ramen style. And maybe I will be part of this movement.. :)
Well at least as Mottainai's rendition goes I loved every spoonful of it. My humble description a delicious child of a straight up shoyu and hakata tonkotsu met up somewhere halfway (but leaning towards the tonkotsu) where I got to enjoy best of both worlds. It is porky rich savory with the benefit of the sweetness and less heft of the shoyu. The pork chashu was tender and also well flavored. Noodles are straight, thick and chewy.
The tamago egg I got is well marinated, slightly on the more done side of half-cooked but had nice sweet yolks.
Then there are the "Magic Bombs," white and red, designed to enhance your meal experience by changing its flavor. The red is a spicy paste and the white which I chose - garlic with some pork fat back.
Ah, the porcelain translucent quality of lard I can spot from few feet away.. ;)
I only used about half for this bowl which by the way is regular sized (a large is available). The White Butter as I call it slowly melts away and also releases garlic goodness. The tiny bits of fat back reminds of my bowl from Tatsunoya during one of Mitsuwa's fairs.
The richness was starting to approach tsukemen levels but the thick noodles that seemed to never go soft still easily complemented.
My next visit the choice was a bit more easy. Mottainai's Sapporo Lover Miso Ramen. Check out one being wok'd up..(!).
While Sapporo Miso Ramen are traditionally wok'd, Mottainai takes it up a notch by lightly scorching the miso and vegetable contents to impart a lovely charred or kogashi flavor.
I've ordered kogashi miso elsewhere in the past where the efforting results were a bit questionable but with the skilled hands of Mottainai's chefs this was a pure delight.
A well balanced not overly rich or salty broth with wonderful flavors and aroma of charred miso goodness. The miso I would guess a blend but the tangier red aka miso leading. On the surface tiny beads of subtle sweet oils that can only be that of lard. Hey why do you think mexican food tastes so good? ;)
The flavor changer side I had this day was their buttered corn.
You can say a yummy no-brainer popular match with a Sapporo miso. As with my first white magic bomb I think could be shared between two regular size bowls. I'm sure the red spicy hot MB would've been an equally great match as well.
Their gyozas limited to twenty per lunch and dinner was sold out my first visit but I made sure to come early this day for a taste. A wonderful crispy single side. The fillings were a meaty medium grind with minced cabbage and punchy flavors of garlic and a little red chili. They're juicy and will easily tear the skins like those goldfish scooping things at summer carnival matsuris. Definitely has character and easily trumps any gyoza imho that you typically see elsewhere. At $2.95 I'd say a runaway steal if you can get them.
Finally a bowl of their Tokyo Props Shoyu.
Opposed to the Miso and Ie-Kei Tonkotsu/Shoyu, the Shoyu here is surprisingly on the quiet side. Since you can specify the richness of your broth I might order it next as koime or richer. The delicateness of the broth to me was on par with Gardena Ramen's and could be sufficient as is but I've ordered their tasty gyozas once again and I thought a slightly more savory ramen could be a better pair as for the entire meal was concerned.
Noodles used were a different thinner type to fit well with the particular soup. Was a bit on the soft side for me so I'd be asking for katame or firmer next time as well.
The Chashu this day was different. Much larger in diameter and cut very thin. Leaner than usual but very tender. Flavor to me was about the same as my previous visits but when cut this thin the texture definitely changes.
Reminded me some of what Ramen California had in their Niboshi Ramen. If I had to choose which I preferred I guess I'd go with the popular thicker block cut. Either way next time I'm going to order more of it.
The gyoza this day was equally delightfully crisp but a wee bit waterlogged and tore easily. If no one was looking I'd probably pick the whole thing up with my bare hands and eat it like a chocolate bar, haha.
Lastly there are the people who run the joint up front. I have to say they were all full of positive energy, confident yet not arrogant to the least, an energetic and genuine welcome when greeting you as you enter and a sincere humbling thank you as you leave. Food aside I love visiting shops with an atmosphere like that. I'll be sure to visit again with friends next to share my great find.
Ramen Mottainai, 1630 W. Redondo Beach Blvd - Suite 9, Gardena, CA 90247 (in the Gardena Marukai Market complex)