With the large Asian population found in the Seattle Metro area, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of ethnic restaurants around here. It seems that everywhere you go here you find no shortage of Chinese, Japanese, or even Vietnamese restaurants ranging from the standard Americanized dishes to the more exotic fare buried under a menu comprised entirely of characters completely incomprehensible to your average Westerner. Nonetheless, within this area, small teriyaki places in strip malls and are common, sushi continues to gain in popularity and even less common forms of Asian cuisine like Vietnamese Phở are surprisingly easy to find around here. It is because of the prevalence of the many different flavors of Asian cuisine on offer here that it surprises me a bit that Japanese ramen hasn’t really caught on here.
Of course, it might be said that in America, the whole concept of ramen comes with something of a built-in image problem. When the word is mentioned, the first things that comes to mind for most people are the ten-for-a-buck blocks of instant noodles and packets of exceedingly salty broth that seem to serve mainly to keep impoverished college students alive. Naturally, most people tend to stop eating that stuff as soon as they can afford to eat something else, and even though I have to admit that I actually like the stuff every once in a while (I have been known to have e a Cup ‘o Noodles for breakfast far more often than I care to admit,) I can’t exactly say that I blame them. Of course, in Japan where ramen originated in its present form (although it is originally based on similar Chinese noodle dishes,) it is more elaborate than the instant noodle products we’re used to here. Although the fundamentals are the same (the noodles and the broth,) these soups are filled with fresh vegetables, chunks of various braised meats and quite a few different types of broth, which tend to vary mostly by region, although some types have gained more widespread popularity. In general, ramen in Japan is generally considered to be street food, and is relatively inexpensive and readily accessible.
It is for those reasons that it surprises me a bit that nobody has really ever tried to establish a ramen restaurant around here. Granted, Vietnamese Phở (which, as mentioned above relatively common here) is quite similar in basic concept, but it is also very different in execution. With all the teriyaki and sushi places found here, you’d think someone would try doing ramen, but up until now, nobody has bothered with it. In March, Boom Noodle made the journey across the lake from their original Capitol Hill location in Seattle to the Lodge at Bellevue Square in some of the space formerly occupied by a Borders bookstore. In addition to the ramen mentioned above (more on that later) their menu is packed with all sorts of different Japanese noodle dishes, including a number of variations on udon, soba and even some various fried rice dishes (just in case you happen to be allergic to noodles or something like that.) Although I’ve only made a couple of visits here so far and haven’t had much opportunity to explore the menu yet,there are quite a few items on there that sound interesting, and the prices are even somewhat reasonable (at least by Downtown Bellevue standards.)
This, for example, is the Tokyo Ramen, which combines the standard noodles with a pork and chicken broth with several relatively large (at least when you’re trying to eat them with chopsticks) chunks of braised pork, bamboo shoots, and a bit of hard-boiled egg, with a piece of nori used for garnish (as is typical of Japanese ramen.) On a previous visit I had the Miso Ramen, which combines a miso-based broth with the same pork (chicken is also an option,) along with fresh corn and bean sprouts. All things considered there’s nothing too complicated going on here (most of the work involved would most likely be in preparing the broth) but the simplicity of all works in its favor, and makes for a hearty, satisfying meal. But there is one catch.
When you arrive, your place is set with nothing but a napkin and a pair of chopsticks, and when you order the soup it comes with what some people might consider to be a somewhat odd-looking Asian-style soup spoon that more closely resembles a miniature ladle than any spoon that most people here would be familiar with. There isn’t a fork in sight, although I suspect you could procure one if necessary. Fortunately, I’ve had enough practice with chopsticks over the years to be able to handle them reasonably well (or at least well enough make it through a bowl of this stuff relatively unscathed) but I could definitely see where people might encounter some difficulty with this. Another question that I haven’t quite figured out is that of the etiquette involved. The FAQ page on Boom Noodle’s website seems to suggest that slurping is not only acceptable but encouraged, but given the fact that many diners here are presumably eating at the large communal tables in the dining room (although my two visits have both been during slow mid-afternoon times with few other patrons) and the fact that slurping is, well, slurping, something tells me there has to be a “right” way to eat the stuff. Unfortunately, given the relative scarcity of this type of ramen in America there doesn’t seem to be much information to go around on the subject. Then again, ramen isn’t exactly known for being fancy, so I guess that means it’s OK to slurp away. Nonetheless, if for some reason you find yourself bringing a blind date here, you might just want to stick to the salad.
With all the Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine to be found around here, it seems just a bit odd to me that a place like Boom Noodle should be a novelty, but they have managed to bring a relatively common facet of Japanese cuisine to the Eastside which is surprisingly unexplored around these parts. Given what has been accomplished here with just a few relatively simple ingredients, I certainly wouldn’t complain if more of these types of places showed up here.