Thursday, April 11, 2013

Daruma Ramen

I recently attended a soft opening at Daruma Ramen, Austin's latest ramen shop, brought to you from the owners of Kome up on Airport Blvd. They've had ramen on their menu at Kome, but I am sure after seeing how popular Ramen Tatsu-ya and Michi Ramen have been, they decided to venture into the land of noodles as well. 
There are a number of things that set Daruma apart from the others.
-- It's located downtown, on 6th Street (yup), on the north side of the street, between Sabine and Red River Streets.
-- It's a tiny little spot, with at very most, seating for 30, and that would be pushing it! And while I love the decor at Ramen Tatsu-ya (I still haven't been to Michi), I really enjoyed the cherry blossom wall paper, and very minimal, clean lines of Daruma.
-- They're using a chicken-based broth, as opposed to the more traditional pork (tonkatsu) broth, and they have a vegan ramen bowl too, so these broths aren't quite as rich.
There were four of us (and you can read Mad Betty's take on Daruma here), and there were four ramen bowl options, so we got one of each, and passed them around the narrow table.

Shio -- certainly the lightest and cleanest, you can taste the chicken in the broth (which also takes hours to make). This would be the perfect "chicken noodle soup" when you are under the weather. The same noodles are used in all the bowls; I thought they had a nice texture and give to them, but more on the noodles in a minute.
Shoyu -- very similar to the Shio, but with the addition of dashi (made from fish and kombu seaweed) broth, which gives it a little more depth. Also characterized by the fish cake, or naruto, the white and pink-swirled piece next to the soft-boiled egg.
Miso -- this seemed to be the consensus favorite at our table! The addition of miso to the chicken broth really brought the umami sensation to your palate. Plus you have shredded chicken, the saffron threads, and a bit of chili oil.
Vegan -- talk about eating the rainbow, this was a gorgeous bowl! This vegan broth also takes an extremely long time to produce, which also makes it a touch more expensive than the other ones. Apparently in the broth is made primarily from Japanese sweet potato and I believe pineapple. At first I didn't really get the fruit influences in the broth, but I was gradually able to taste a light sweetness with almost tropical undertones I didn't see any sesame seeds (as listed on the menu) nor really taste the ginger in this bowl, but it will surely be popular with the vegetarians and vegans!
As we were eating, owner Kayo came over to talk with us. She had seen we were taking pictures of everything, and asked how the food was. She also told us about the noodles. They had just met with the noodle man from Los Angeles, and after sampling lots of different noodles, they decided to change the noodle slightly from what were currently eating. I was happy with the ones we had, but I believe the new ones will have a touch more bite to them. 

So on your next venture to 6th Street, go check Daruma out, but just remember, this is a lighter style of ramen than the other shops in town. The friendly staff also told us what "daruma" meant -- it's the little creature depicted on their bowls that serves as their icon, that's known as a talisman of luck to the Japanese. Good daruma, indeed.