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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Izakaya Sozai

If you make it, they will come, especially if you advertise that only a limited 30 bowls of special ramen are made per day. It worked for me, who, along with MFM and two other ramen-loving friends were first in line when Izakaya Sozai opened their doors at 5:30 pm on a Sunday. And good thing too, by 6:00 they were packed.

I've been a life-long student of ramen, I’ve spent years "studying" the savory complexities of miso ramen, and pouring over the salty intricacies of shoyu ramen. But it’s only recently that I’ve learned about tonkotsu ramen. And Izakaya Sozai specializes in tonkotsu (not to be confused with the panko covered pork cutlets, that's "tonkatsu") ramen. The broth for tonkotsu ramen is made with pork bone, fat & collagen that has been simmered for days.

I've never been to Japan, but learned that an “
izakaya” is a bar-like after work establishment, where the primary objective is drinking & socializing. The accompanying dishes are smaller, appetizer-sized portions, so you can have a bite of this and a bite of that in between copious amounts of beer or sake. So for those with heartier appetites (myself included) you have to keep ordering. A lot.

The waitress recommended 3-4 dishes per person. Overall, they were all pretty tasty - the bacon-wrapped mochi was a mouthful of smoky-chewy genius and the grilled eggplant with sweet miso was so good I wanted to lick the plate. Others, like the spicy tuna on crispy rice,fried oysters, and beef tataki were good, yes, just not anything new or different from other restaurants I’ve tried.

And can I just say I love, love, love nigori (unfiltered) sake. (So glad you suggested this, CL & DT!)

After our fill of apps, we signaled to the waitress that we were ready for what we came for, the
ramen. Here it’s served as the last part of the meal. When the steaming bowls came to the table we paused and took everything in. There were so many interesting things going here. For one, the broth was light and milky, but intense and rich. There was a certain creaminess and hint of sweetness that made us wonder if there actually was milk in it, and the perfect amount of oiliness which made it smooth, not greasy. We ordered it with fatty pork (soft and melt in your mouth delicious!) and the accompanying
green onions and bamboo slices gave it a nice added crunch and texture. Another surprise was the inclusion of a soft-boiled egg which was cooked perfectly: soft, creamy and slightly salty. I could have eaten a plate of those eggs all by itself and been happy. Lastly, the slippery, slurpable noodles were chewy and toothsome with just the right amount of bite.

We finished the meal with two desserts, banana tempura and a
green tea cake with red bean that were fine, but again, nothing really standout or memorable about them. The ramen, on the other hand, will stay in my mind for a long, long time. I left the restaurant feeling I had tried something new and truly special.



Urban Stomach said...

OK. Izakaya just went from near the top of my list to the very top! Love your writing and photography.

Sami and Addie said...

@Urban Stomach - thanks for the nice comment! I'm a big fan of your blog too, in fact, it's because of your blog that I trekked out to Rhea's in the pouring RAIN this past weekend. But it was delicious - will blog about it soon! Can't wait to try Bob's Donuts too. Thanks again! :) Samiwich

Alexandria said...

Wow! This is a great review! I am so happy to know this little jewel is right in my neighborhood. And I have to say that I'm hearing wonderful things about the new owners. I had a terrible experience at the "former" Sozai. Among other things, we were overcharged and upon mentioning it, the server said he already knew (hmmm...). But I can't wait to try out this ramen!! I'll be there at 5:30 Sunday!

Sami and Addie said...

@Alex - Good call on getting there early! Just FYI, you can call ahead and reserve a table (but not a ramen, I tried. Like a dork). Can't wait to hear how you like it!

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