Sunday, November 18, 2012

RakiRaki Ramen And Tsukemen - First Month Post

Sharing a collection of meals I've had at San Diego's newer ramen and tsukemen specialist RakiRaki. Apologize in advance for the longer marathon post but if you're a regular reader you may be used to them by now. Although they've had a few additional weeks in soft phase, placing again my courtesy "First Month Post" in the subject line as I've found them still experimenting with standard topping items and also portion size. Their most recent updated menu can be found here with extra items such as some crazy rolls, yakisoba and takoyaki. Things I usually don't associate with ramen but in So. Cal. probably necessary and the influence I would guess from researching longer established Japanese restaurants along Convoy.

[RakiRaki chicken-based Tsukemen]

Don't want to spend too much time with their claimed background which can be read a little here, but it seems to be run by a parent company in the alkalized water purification equipment business (JYOSUI). A bottle of their Enagic water is served complementary on every table and said to also be used in all of their cooking.

With the company's ties to Nagoya, a prefecture well known for their own brand breed of Jidori (called the Nagoya Ko-chin), RakiRaki's focus on quality hormone-free chicken wasn't too surprising while the health conscious message continues with use of premium pork.

Aside from the dip tsukemen which I'll get into later, the ramen that RakiRaki serves (both the Original and Premium) are classic Torigara Shio. A lighter soup base made mainly from chicken that is flavored with a shio dare (or "salt flavor elixir" if you will). You can say the style is furthest opposite to the ever-popular opaque and (usually) rich pork bone based Kyushu Tonkotsu.

[Karaage Rice Bowl (taken with iPhone 4)]

For me the mindset of when having this most simple of ramen styles Shio Ramen, I sort of describe to how I enjoy a very fresh free range soft-boiled egg with good pinch of kosher salt (Mmm). Or maybe easier to relate would be that bite right after an also generous dash from a handheld shaker onto a glistening grass-fed beef burger patty (Mmm X2!).  Most elemental and because of this, Shio Ramen has always been said to be the more difficult to pull off right. No velvet curtains of rendered pork bone marrow or sparkly tinsels of Shoyu flavoring as distractions here.

[RakiRaki Original with Pork Chashu]

The photo above is what RR calls the Original which is the lightest with choice of pork or chicken chashu (pork shown). This day it leaned on the saltier side but something I enjoyed, especially the sodium having a more rounded profile. I felt it gave the bowl an edge to it in a good way. The heat can be upped in two stages if it's your thing. The chashu tends to be on the leaner side but tender and held together with a few fattier veins.
Noodles in the ramen are a thinner, straighter and pale yellow with decent resiliency, the type a time proven match and what is typically seen in these lighter Shio. Other toppings were serviceable pieces of off the shelf-ish menma (marinated bamboo shoots), minced green onions and a large sheet nori.

[Soboro (minced chicken) Rice Bowl]

With all this organic poultry and premium pork you do pay a price in quantity where I feel it's about the ~5/6th portion I'm used to having at Mitsuwa's ramen showcases. But as with Yamadaya you can separately order an extra serving of noodles here for a buck or so which is nice. If you do decide on the kaedama route don't forget to order it halfway through your bowl as it takes a few minutes to come out. :)

Since I only tried the Original once and early on, I'm not sure how it might've evolved if any over the weeks. It's a good Shio and something I can see myself enjoy on occasion but my personal two go-to's at RakiRaki are the richer "Premium" ramen and also the Tsukemen.

I congratulate RR for bringing the first decent tsukemen to SD, a relatively solid bowl that I can recommend to friends without losing too much sleep worrying over consistency. Even cooler that it is an all-chicken based which is fairly rare even in Japan, most being a Tonkotsu/Gyokai blend (pork bone and dried marine products), sometimes with chicken but as an additional component.

[The concentrated Tsukemen Dip]

Their menu explanation of tsukemen is way exaggerated and a bit humorous. Basically if you ever had a Zaru Soba the experience isn't that far off, though even closer would be a Kamo Seiro (鴨せいろ) with its additional animal protein and fat. The concentrated soup is meant to be dipped into and intentionally saltier. Although not as thick as some I've had, the special chewy noodles are a good match to offset. The lime wedge I like to squeeze partially through the meal into the soup dip, but I hear some do it to their noodles.

Of the four I've tried only one felt a little thinned out and most all were a good guilty tasting. Something easiest described as if it were made with those pan drippings after roasting a whole chicken maybe. Here also a pleasant, albeit subtle note of dried gyokai marine umami and a little tingly heat in the background.
One day I was mistakenly served the Spicy version (+$0.50) which I thought was ok but still prefer the regular. The spice is a straighter Ichimi (red ground chili pepper) type of heat which doesn't seem to contribute much in additional umami. But if you like spicy I say go for it and a portion of the spice can be purchased separately as an 'Akadama.'

[RakiRaki Akadama Red Spice]

If anything the toppings for the tsukemen are on the skimpy side though for the $8.75 price of the regular probably fair. The egg is unfortunately hard boiled but has a pleasant light marinade flavor which seems to now be standard as of couple weeks ago

[Spicy Tsukemen]

I'd personally ask for extra menma and extra chashu, it be pork or their chicken (now found resting in the soup dip). And although not necessary, slurping does help bring out the flavors (though there's a correct way of doing so).

But anyway my immediate thoughts were that RR should have on the menu a recommended house 'Deluxe' topping option that highlights their hard effort instead of having patrons guess. (Just my humble opinion.) It's also too bad that you're not offered a stock to thin the dip out so to enjoy as a soup in the end. In fairness not all places do but even with my sodium tolerance I can only have a few sips. Depending how much is left I've opted to take home as leftovers, ha. ;)

My first sampling of their Premium Ramen (the most recent bowl sampled below) was actually during my inaugural visit that had left a good impression on me. Aside from the close second tsukemen it's pretty much my go-to meal here. This probably had been the most inconsistent over the month and half but luckily none were any I'd consider bad. (And I'm all aware that often ramen served earlier in the day may taste lighter than that during dinner.)

[RakiRaki Premium Ramen with Chicken Chashu]

There are other ramen joints around that use the term "Premium" to describe one of their upper tier offerings but in the case of RR it essentially means a Kotteri (richer) version. The kotteri adjective is all relative of course and compared to their very light assari Original, it is indeed richer, but not quite to the extent of the look of the opaque bowl pictured in one of their posters (yes, the one that says "Unexceedable").

[Soft Shell Crab Roll]

I haven't seen the sheet nori in a while which I kinda miss. In exchange of the larger chicken chashu had first, the pieces are now smaller but also accompanied with egg, menma and some par-cooked moyashi (bean sprouts) garnish. The fact that I don't care for bean sprouts in ramen doesn't help but I feel it makes the bowl seem old fashioned (古くさい). I think instead some mizuna greens would've been a more modern interpretation and better match to the forward feeling and message of the restaurant. I'd even maybe prefer some wispy finely shredded white leeks as shiraga negi than bean sprouts... but that's just me. (もやしよりミズナ、または白髪ネギのほうがラキラキのモダンなコンセプトに合うと思います。。)

[RakiRaki Premium Ramen with extra Pork Chashu]

The biggest surprise was that when asked one of the chefs (casually when he brought my bowl over), he mentioned that there was absolutely no Bonito (or Niboshi) used when making their ramen. He's either pulling my leg or maybe I didn't phrase the question right as there's usually some (even if little) dried marine component to most ramen as a kambutsu (乾物), it be dried scallops (hoshi kaibashira), seaweed or the usual dried fish (bonito or niboshi is most popular but sometimes that of Ago (flying fish) or even mackerel though rare). Curiously since it had the least gyokai notes during the last couple less salty bowls, I could guess it may be used in the shio dare.

Fyi, I won't be posting all my photos for sake of redundancy, but above is one with extra pork chashu where the edges were a little unpleasantly bitter of lightly scorched soy sauce flavor. Otherwise it was pretty fine.

The Premium bowl that looked most like the "Unexceedable" poster was the one above had couple weeks back. This was the most "Tonkotsu-like" visually and the chicken based alternative as described on the menu. So while phrases found online like, "It didn't even taste like Tonkatsu" is ridiculous in many levels I maybe don't blame some that felt were misled?

[Japanese Gyoza]

As for sides the Japanese Gyozas were probably the biggest disappointment. If there were a check list of what I don't look forward in a plate they were all there. Fragile and already torn skins, a very veggie based filling, and lack of a crispy bottom. As my friend Kirk of Mmm-Yoso often says, "You can't win them all right?"

[Soboro Inari]

Pure fill standpoint, if on a budget the Soboro Inari fit the bill for $3.75. Sometimes called "footballs" here these are filled with rice mixed with minced chicken (also found on the Soboro Rice Bowl shown earlier). I actually liked that they were fluffy and loosely packed, just would be careful when lifting the ones upside down as the filling will fall out.(!)

The California Spicy Crunchy Roll ($4.25) were fresh tasting and not bad but maybe rather unmemorable in the flavor front.

Portions are also smaller which I first questioned the price of but maybe if some full 'crazy' rolls start from ~$10 I guess these aren't too off. For fifity-cents more I enjoyed the Soft Shell Crab Roll more so.

The Tempura Jalapeno Stuffed Roll ($4.75) below had once for dinner was ok. For me seemed to suffer from bang-for-the-buck value. Supposedly real Alaskan King Crab meat is used but I thought all were lost in the double sriracha-mayo and sweet eel sauce.

Better may have been if they kept the stuffing fake surimi Krab, doubled the portion or decrease the price. Again just mho.

The Karaage is quite good here resting on some sprite greens. Larger and juicy as they should be with a tasty crisp outer coating to boot. The portion may have been upped recently as well. I'm not the biggest fan of the ponzu dipping sauce with but also available is the ubiquitous dollop of Japanese mayo. I feel it's seasoned well enough to be eaten as-is though.

The Karaage Rice Bowl where the same tender fried chicken pieces are dressed with a little sweet-sour-spicy sauce was also quite good and a fair deal for $3.75.

Things I haven't tried yet are the Ox Tail topping that I didn't hear great things about from Kirk, and also the fried rice which Kirbie didn't seem to enjoy too much. The service was pretty attentive all visits with mostly a younger but eager crew that is likable and definitely means well (more than one occasion I was asked how my meal was in the middle of a huge slurp).

I can find a few areas RakiRaki can better exceed at but for the most part I'm very excited at having them become the newest member of SD's ramen scene. Latest rumor from the one seasoned waitress (which I think is the owner's wife) is that they're already working on a Tonkotsu and also a Miso Tonkotsu. Something to look forward to in the near future, but I'd be happy if they kept refining their Premium and Tsukemen myself. ごちそうさまです! :)

RakiRaki Ramen And Tsukemen, 4646 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

A quick 101 tsukemen primer dating back from 2007. Yes we are behind, but gotta start somewhere right?


KirkK said...

Nice post Dennis. I was wondering when you'd get around to this!

K and S said...

everything looks great!

kirbie said...

I love these long posts =) I'm glad you like the karaage, as I enjoyed it too.

Junichi said...

I went right before the grand opening. I asked for the noodles to be kata-me and the waitress said they don't do that =(. I got the premium and thought it was good but nothing mind blowing. Was bummed about the hard boiled egg but it had a good marinade. I got a side of the spicy chicken bowl. It was good but 2 small pieces of chicken for over $3 felt overpriced. I was left with a bunch of rice which I poured into the soup after I finished the noodles. The place has been packed recently with the cooler weather. So I haven't been back since.

Dennis K. said...

Hi kirk! I've done a couple quick posts but yeah been so busy. Hope you're doing well!

Hi Kat! It's good everyday ramen maybe. Nice and light.

Hey Junichi, how's it going!? I always thought you should start a blog man.. :)
I think shio are generally never mind blowing (unless you have a $18 bowl from nakamuraya maybe), I thought it was a good everyday bowl and like it better than yakyudori's shio. I think they diligently read yelp reviews because the portion was much better during my visits. The tsukemen is definitely better than yamadaya's though the toppings are rather skimpy.

Dennis K. said...

Oops sorry kirbie, I missed your comment!! Thanks for the compliment! I try my best to be concise but this time I ended up collecting way more meals than usual since it took me forever to get to the post. Hope you guys are doing good!

Minxi said...

Nice!! S and I loved the tsukemen so much that we went twice in three days. Haha. I hear that they are still changing things up - my friend told me that when he visited last week, the premium ramen actually comes with half a boiled egg now.

Dennis K. said...

Hi Minxi! RR's tsukemen is very serviceable and I'm glad to have them in town. I like that it's chicken based which makes it unique. For a great tsukemen though I recommend Tsujita in L.A. Heard good things about Ikemen in Hollywood too (last I tried they were closed!). I do wish the eggs were soft boiled here but some shops for whatever reason do it hard (i.e. Santouka).