Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ramblings Of A Ramen Whore - Gunco And Izakaya Masa

Congrats to Kirk of Mmm-yoso on his second article in the SD Reader!! The write up was on the few better ramen spots San Diego currently has to offer (Kirk's first was on Pho) and he was nice enough to mention me and my humble blog in the end. It did cause me to blush some since as much as I'm a huge fan of ramen I personally know much more hardcore folks than myself, many who I haven't been able to convince yet to participate in the fine 21st century hobby known as food blogging, haha.

One of the stops during Kirk's quick tour of Chula Vista he gave me early this year (I briefly mention the Mariscos El Pescador taco truck here) was Gunco Ramen. GR is connected to Kanpai in the literal sense by a hallway, and for all practical purposes are the same restaurant sharing menus. Unfortunately for its self-imposed Gunco name, the place could be an especially easy target for criticism from would be ramen fanatics since Gunco (or Ganko) in Japanese implies someone of "stubborn" uncompromising determination in serving the best (in this case ramen). I could see how for most people here it's just a name though and to some extent it would also be for me.



I've only had their Miso a couple of times in the past which seemed to progress for the better (consequently through new ownerships) so I thought it was time to finally try their Shoyu. I think I asked for the Chashumen with the extra pork slices. As Kirk mentioned there's a bit of ginger flavor in these, at least in the Shio and Shoyu. I remembered hearing about the Shyoga-Jyoyu Ramen of Nagaoka city which is a darker Shoyu fortified with Ginger, the adaptation said to come from the shoga ginger's warming effect to the body that is appreciated during the colder winters of Niigata. In any case, actual Nagaoka shyoga-jyoyu inspired or not aside, it would be a much too mild interpretation. Closer would be to the pushcart Yatai-style very light assari-kei maybe, but personally judging the bowl by its own merits would be a lot easier. The lighter less oily, "healthier broth" is not at all uncommon to So. Cal. ramen (to the point I'm developing a theory that it could be a style??) and I actually appreciated the ginger notes which gave the bowl some character, if not a very subtle one. The ginger seems to lend itself better to the shoyu flavor since Kirk found the use in his further simple Shio broth order (salt flavored) to be heavy handed.


[Gunco's Miso, 11/2007.]

For me personally the positives of my shoyu were that it's actually a fairly balanced bowl. The lightly marinated chashu is on the dry side but was appropriately sliced thinner. The noodles which are also very thin and wavy were cooked a medium firm without me asking which was nice. Too bad it didn't have any flavor but at least it was executed with some spine left in it to be enjoyed slurped up and inhaled with the soup.

If I remember right I think a regular bowl is priced at the low six-dollar range. It's not Pho cheap, but the relative affordability is a ligit attraction while the serviceable fried rice chahan and "potsticker" gyozas makes it further appealing as a package (should be noted it's been several years since having these). If GR happened to be closer to where I lived or worked I can see myself having these ginger spiked assari-kei bowls more often than not.


[Gunco's gyoza and hanchan, 11/2007.]

Gunco Ramen, 305 Palomar St, Chula Vista, CA 91911

To be very blunt over the years I've become a less judgmental ramen whore. It's not altogether a bad thing. It's recognizing how I can appreciate say, a wood fire oven baked artisan pizza when I can get my hands on one but also how a leftover cold slice from the fridge can give me a good smile too. It's win-win, haha. Great bowls and so-so bowls both marches me forward toward ramen happy land though obviously in different intensities. A dice roll of six or one, as long it's not a negative, in which case I choose not to share about at all.

There are a daunting array of ramen styles, so much so that one is bound to find one that fits them if given the opportunity, and like our Big Banged universe, it only expands outward exponentially. At the Fukuoka owner run Izakaya Masa, a classic Hakata style pork bone Tonkotsu ramen have become pretty popular. Izakaya Masa is one of our favorite watering holes for my friends and I. The food and selection is generally very decent, the place has a nice vibe and they happen to be close by for us. Their Hakata tonkotsu ramen that some tend to rave about online, honestly a similar quality can be had at home by visiting your neighborhood Japanese grocer. Just go to the refrigerated section and pick up one of the many raw nama tonkotsu ramen packs. This goes to show how far nama ramen have come. You'd find them just as (in a good way) greasy and salty and perfect company with that nice chilled beeru.



Where Masa does excel at is their knack of putting store bought components together to create something that is surprisingly attractive in their tiny efficient kitchen. Sandra Lee would be proud and I feel actually a virtue some local establishments who do take the time in making everything from scratch can learn from -- execution. Here the fat lady sings a combination of finely minced green onions, benishoga red-pickled ginger, some tasty garlic chips, a sheet of nori and very koubashii roasty toasted sesame seeds that all come together to become a Hakata ramen flavor enhancing party bus of sorts to nicely cap your buzz filled evening. The chashu is usually on the salty side and to me very familiar tasting to the string tied samples I purchased before at both Nijiya and Mitsuwa.



Only operating for dinner on the weekdays, IM is open for lunch on the weekends with a limited menu focused on their ramen. They also have a Chahan fried rice which is only offered then.



Because I really enjoyed my Chahan a lot my first lunch visit I decided to get a full order this day. However instead of the immediate familiar clanking sound of a wok I instead heard the clunk of a door and some beeps.



The previously made fried rice reheated in the microwave was nothing like the freshly made light lard coated I had my first. As much as Masa is a favorite watering hole, the cutting of corners such as these ultimately prevents me in becoming an all out fan.



But the ramen they serve is admittedly decent, though the soup suspiciously prepackaged tasting. The noodles here are the correct thinner, white and straight Hakata style. I did see these delivered in boxes. What is confusing though is that unless you specify, without fail they'll serve it to you soft and overcooked. These specific type of noodles don't lend itself in being cooked very long. They should know better but may be their way of catering to the So. Cal. American palate whose most experiences with ramen is the mushy instant kind. When I finally one day asked for them Bari-Kata (slang for very firm) I had a totally different experience. It's the only way I'd get them now.




A Shio-Tonkotsu and Shoyu-Tonkotsu flavor is now offered as well. Like a proper ramen whore one night with friends I decided to try them all in their available half-portion size ($4.95). The more translucent but satisfying saltier Shio comes with some sweet corn and wakame seaweed while the darker colored Shoyu is topped with some marinated menma bamboo shoots. Either ones not particular stand outs for me but perfectly serviceable and better than most in town. Always nice to have options. I'll personally be sticking to the straight Tonkotsu with the noodles asked very firm barikata. Oh, and a tall pitcher of ice cold Sapporo please. Kanpai! :)

Izakaya Masa, 928 Fort Stockton Dr, San Diego, CA 92103

5 comments:

K and S said...

because I take so long to eat (can't slurp to save my life), I usually order bari-kata :) these dishes look good!

KirkK said...

Hey Dennis thanks for the mention! I didn't call you a ramen whore, did I? I only implied it... he-he-he....

Dennis K. said...

Hi Kat, yeah not to mention me taking the time to document with my camera, haha. No, I'm usually pretty quick. Anyway I've been noticing the term 'barikata' becoming more popular in non Hakata tonkotsu ramen usage. Do you feel the same?

Hi Kirk! Haha, the whore (Ho) term is a proud self proclamation.

Jenne said...

Hey Dennis, thanks for pointing me to Kirk's column! I guess he's too modest to put it on his own blog...

I'm not such a huge fan of the tonkotsu style ramen but maybe I'll check out Masa sometime. I also didn't think Gunco was super amazing but it's fun to visit a different part of town sometimes anyway.
Yakyudori is still my favorite!

did I tell you my friend and I started a project where we're going to try to eat at all the restaurants on Convoy? :-)
(convoyconquest.blogspot.com)

Dennis K. said...

Thanks Jenne, I'll check it out!
Masa is ok. I can list a number of things I can make at home but don't cause I'm too lazy, haha. Gunco I had better and worse and I agree it's always fun to check out new places. Shio flavor is always the hardest to pull off.