Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sure It's The Same Old Shalala: Mountain View Standout Opens SF Japantown Outpost

When ramen guru Melanie Wong spotted the "Shalala" sign going up at the storefront on the Buchanan St. mall vacated by Sushi Aka Tombo, she wondered if it was related to the highly regarded Ramen Shalala in Mountain View. The paper trail she followed indicated it was indeed under the same ownership, and that gave me a reason for checking it out at the earliest opportunity. I had a second reason, or so I thought, in the word "Kuro" which I spotted on the posted menu when I buzzed by the previous Saturday on my way to the Northern California Tofu Festival (hey, I'm an omnivore, you know?)

It turned out "Kuro" ("dark") in this case did not refer to the Exxon Valdez-grade blackened garlic oil ramen I became enamored of at New York's Hide-chan a while back, but to one of the two broth styles offered by Ramen Shalala's new venture, described as "Deep and Thick Tonkotsu (Pork Bones) Broth with Soy Sauce Base flavor;" in other words, a tonkotsu-shoyu broth. Shalala's other Japantown offering is "Shiro" ("light"), a tonkotsu-shio (sea salt base flavor) ramen.  Nicknames aside, these constitute two-thirds of the basic offerings at Ramen Shalala in Mountain View, where a miso option is also available.  At both locations variations are available, such as negi (spring onion), moyashi (bean sprout), vegetarian and kitchen sink options. The appetizer and side dish offerings at Shalala Ramen are pretty much a subset of those at Ramen Shalala as well.

Disappointed though I was upon learning no blackened garlic oil was involved, I ordered the $8.95 dark "Kuro" ramen with eyes open anyway; no extra toppings save the $1 spice bomb.  I also went for an order of gyoza, after determining they were house made (good move that; they were well-browned garlicky ingots that went down well).  My ramen came piping hot; hot enough to burn my tongue while tasting the broth even after pausing to pose my bowl for a couple of Obnoxious Foodie pictures. The tawny potion was a deep rich wonder, and the added spice neutered any cloying quality it may have had (as tonkotsu broths sometimes do)  The three razor-thin chashu slices were tender if a little dry, and the whole half-cooked egg was suitably runny at the yolk. The thick, curly noodles were nicely chewy, and the negi, kikurage, nori and sesame seeds complemented the main players nicely (if this was theater, I'd say there was great chemistry, but that doesn't work for soup, huh).  

It's the same old Shalala, ownership-wise, and two-thirds of the same old Shalala menu-wise; is it the same old Shalala quality-wise?  Not having tried the fare at the mother ship, this ramen novice noodle nudnik can't say. But I found myself thinking that perhaps I was finally beginning to get ramen, so maybe there's something of Ramen Shalala's reputation that came through in the translation to Shalala Ramen in San Francisco.

Where slurped: Shalala Ramen, 1737 Buchanan St. (on the pedestrian mall), San Francico

The "Shalala" name is hidden by the tree; it's not a.k.a. Tombo

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