Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ramen Yamadaya SD - First Month Post

I swear my small streak of ramen related posts are a coincidence... But I've finally got around finishing up my compilation of San Diego Ramen Yamadaya visits, so hear goes another. Since quite a few SD bloggers have already posted on them (such as Kirbie, Jinxi, Gastrobits and of course Kirk of mmm-yoso) I'll try to keep my usual nerd ramblings to a minimum. My personal gist here is that this L.A. ramen shop's sixth expansion into SD is a good one, but with ample room for refinement.

The good news is if you've ever been longing for an extra rich and hearty take on Kyushu/Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen in SD, Yamadaya SD has got your back. But in truth as I've actually been "tonkotsu'd out" as of late, I was looking more forward in trying instead a newer introduced chicken based Premium Shoyu and Shio which unfortunately didn't make the menu cut here. Still, it usually doesn't take me long to be in the mood for a lip smacking Kyushu Tonkotsu so I've found myself visiting a few times during lunch the first month and a half.

As a recap my first bowl was during opening week with the squeaky new shop helped out with seasoned members from other locations, both in the kitchen and servers up front.

I went for the gusto and had the heavyweight class Kotteri version with "Yamadaya Ramen" upgrade ($9.95). You get both samplings of their stewed pork belly Kakuni as well as a few chashu slices, but also visually noticeable is the drizzle of Kumamoto inspired Maayu black flavored oil. Personally I think they should offer this as a standalone topping option. For me the roasty notes help break some of the monotony of consuming the quite rich bowl and what's not to like of flavors of slow charred garlic? :) As of now it only comes with the Yamadaya Ramen option but I'll try asking next time and let you know. A good ramen shop (as with our In-N-Out Burger) is typically accommodating to special requests.

True to its adjective (kotteri) description the bowl is quite stout and not for the faint of heart. A good layer of rendered lipids coat the top surface, the soup creamy and even speckles of translucent se-abura fatback sprinkled about.  It's hard to see myself getting the Kotteri very often, but if I am ever in the mood in SD, I now know where to go.
Also authentic to the regional Kyushu/Hakata category you get the thinner and straight white noodles here. Contrary to my usual preference of extra-al dente "barikata" wiry noodles for this style, I actually enjoyed it the most when cooked normal or "futsuu" here but more on that later.

About a week after my first visit I thought I'd try the standard Tonkotsu Ramen ($7.95). Pictured below is one I had more recently though with side of extra negi (scallions, +$1).

I forget where but I remember reading a comment online that there wasn't enough difference between the richer Kotteri and the supposed regular and I'd have to agree with. The standard tonkotsu offered is still quite viscous and rich with maybe only little reserved on the fat but not by a big margin. It's actually a different beast than what I had at the original Torrance locale couple years ago, but what helps tremendously in potential flavor fatigue is the free raw garlic in where you crush yourself.

Oddly I found the swivel in the press portion to be dismantled and shortened, so while it may simplify the use of the garlic press, you end up needing to crush two cloves to get a portion of one in your bowl.

I usually wait halfway through the meal for the addition but in Yamadaya SD's case, I go for it immediately. The small mound would reside on the side of my bowl and I would let it gradually dissolve as I make my way through -- the fresh garlickiness intensifying as I get closer to the end. Yum.

If there is another very Hakata thing to do, it's the culture of "Kaedama" or asking for noodle refills served cooked up fresh. $1.45 for this full extra portion shown but even more generous in that it's free if you're a student with valid I.D.

And there you go, an extremely filling meal at a total of $9.40 (minus the extra onions) Hakata style. Even cheaper if you're a student. What I don't recommend though is asking for the noodles extra firm (barikata) like how I did here. While these unleavened noodles tend to be on the floury side, this particular procured which YSD uses seem to leach out a more than usual amount and you end up with a rather excessive raw taste.  Just speaking Hakata noodles, in SD I enjoy what Izakaya Masa uses a lot more when done up extra firm.

[Having said this, it seems when I last visited that they were now ok serving the thicker noodles previously reserved for the dip tsukemen to have with your ramen. Guessing that they've gotten too many requests from folks not used to the thinner noodles.]

When I returned to try the Tsukemen I was with mixed feelings of both curiosity and reservations. That is I've seen L.A. mom and pop ramen shops hastily bring this relatively newer (and fashionable rage in Japan) dipping noodle dish to their menu without a lot of thought success. Concocting such saltier concentrated dip broth with enough depth of umami and flavor interest to enjoy isn't exactly an easy task.

At first glance Yamadaya SD's looked like it could be promising. A nice prerequisite layer of oils on top, an accent of bonito and in this case even a whisking of the black maayu garlic oil. But dipping the thicker chewy noodles it was quickly evident that the soup wouldn't have enough depth of umami to support the extra sodium and pull off what would be a good example of tsukemen. The soup wasn't viscous enough to help adhere to the noodles either. For a decent example in SD, one should try newly (soft) opened RakiRaki but for a great experience Nidaime Tsujita's is a sure bet, while I also heard good things about Nakamuraya produced Ikemen in Hollywood. [Update: Checkout my visits to Tsujita L.A. and IKEMEN Hollywood here.]

So while this shows simply placing some gyofun (dried fish powder) and amping up the shoyu-dare quotient doesn't quite result in a good tsukemen base, perhaps it isn't Yamadaya's thing - at least now.

What I did also enjoy here though along with the regular Tonkotsu and (on limited occasion) Tonkotsu Kotteri, was the Tonkotsu-Shoyu ($7.95) which is usually rare for me but probably because it was the lightest and easiest to consume of the bunch.

While Santouka's Tonkotsu-Shoyu (though a different Asahikawa-style) is my least favorite on their menu, I think Yamadaya SD's may become my go-to when visiting. I found the light soy sauce flavoring very agreeable and not an unnecessary distraction I usually often find it when in tonkotsu, while of course the bountiful full service Yamadaya Ramen topping option helped too.

But I'll still never forget the garlic! :)

Quickly going through a few sides...

Newly opened I found the Japanese Gyozas were all over the place ranging from crispy and tasty to uncrispy and the filling mealy and unpleasant. I've had serviceable ones at Torrance but seems we're unfortunately not lucky here with decent Japanese Gyozas where the best I had recently was at (believe it or not) Sushi Tadokoro (post coming). Though gotta say they still pale to the ones my friend's missus makes at home. :)

I liked the concept of the 'whole cucumber' Kyuuri Ippon side but felt it was ultimately a bit pricey for $3.30. The meaty miso dip was tasty but the key to the dish's success here would've been the freshness of the vegetable.

As my grandfather and also an uncle being farmers back home, I'm a bit spoiled when it comes to memories of uber-fresh produce. I remember prickly cucumbers off the vine that snapped clean like a green candy cane and then seemingly magically heal itself when the two parts were pressed back together. But I digress. As I can get a good Hiyayakko tofu appetizer for $2.50 at some places, a dollar more for this was a hard sell.

The Mabo Tofu bowl was pretty expected if not a bit mild even for a Japanese version. Like the curry had first, a savory comfort food sustenance type side but I'll probably continue trying others from the seven listed including a potato croquette bowl.(?)

I actually had a non-ramen dish for the main once. The katsu curry (surprise?) was Ok. I seem to enjoy it more as a small bowl side along with the combination set, but the chicken cutlet (special request) was dryer and thought portions in general could've been a little larger considering the $8.80 price.

A mound of potato salad and shredded cabbage with sweeter dressing came with it. Though I haven't met a potato salad I didn't like, this was pretty standard and I can think of at least a dozen ways on the top of my head to spruce it up. The potential of potato salad are not to be underestimated.

I've yet to try the fried chicken karaage but plan for it next time. The image shown at the very beginning of the post was my regular Tonkotsu Ramen with extra Chashu. Although I can't say it's my favorite chashu, I do enjoy the meaty style as long as it's bought up to at least room temp. I've had a couple in the past that were cold, making the already subtle flavors near flavorless.

Some adjustments here and there and working on consistency would make me more a regular returning customer. I'm looking forward in hopefully witnessing how Yamadaya SD matures in the next year, hopefully in leaps and bounds. And maybe they'll even offer the Premium Shoyu and Shio one of these days. Now that, I really look forward to. ;)

Ramen Yamadaya (San Diego), 4706 Clairement Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117


K and S said...


Dennis K. said...

Hi Kat! Hits the spot when I'm in the right mood.

Roger said...

Wow dude this is awesome seeing so much ramen. My bro is super critical and discerning when it comes to his ramen. Definitely will enjoy reading your posts.

Dennis K. said...

Hey Roger! The Ramen scene in SD still needs a lot of work, but it's definitely become better in the last few years. I've visited Yamadaya SD a couple more times after this post and they seem to be improving rapidly, but I'm still really looking forward to their Premium Shoyu/Shio coming one day. I can have a rich tonkotsu only so often...