Katana-Ya, in the upscale Nob Hill District, has created a fan base of its own. While most Americans associate ramen as the square package block of noodles for budget eats, authentic ramen involves master chefs who demonstrate this craft with delicate skills. Forty years ago in Japan, master ramen chef and owner Yoshiaki Noto began learning the craft at a ramen restaurant owned by his relatives. Although he only had one day of formal training from his relatives, Noto studied hard by making 20 different ramen bowls a day in order to create his own ramen recipes.
He immigrated to the United States 20 years ago and started his own business; his biggest challenge was finding a prime location, Noto said. His next project will be the fall opening of a Japanese restaurant serving sakes and fresh seafood from the fish tank, along with prime rib.
The 30-seat eatery resembles authentic ramen houses in Japan: Each customer has a bowl (and perhaps a pair of fogged-up glasses) in front of their face, and the air is filled with the sounds of slurping. Open until 2 a.m., Katana-Ya is a top choice for clubbers and other late-night diners.
For those who enjoy a heavy, full-bodied broth, the miso will deliver. Made of fermented soybean paste, the flavor tastes similar to miso soup, but richer. At the other end of the palate spectrum, the salt broth is light, and its flavor resembles chicken broth (although both miso and salt broths contain chicken and pork).
An order of the regular ramen in miso broth ($7.50) features bamboo shoots that provide a chewy crunch and tender pork slices that enhance the flavor of the broth. Although I would have preferred the noodles more on the al dente side, the texture was good. For an instant rush of heat, the spicy tofu ramen ($9) marries spicy flavor with a minor note of sweet aftertaste. My favorite ramen dish is the fried chicken nugget (karaage) ramen ($9.80) in salty broth. Coated with a thin layer of batter, the four chicken pieces were tender. Next time, I would request that the nuggets be served out of the broth, so I can taste the crispy skin.
A great side dish is the yellowtail (hamachi) neck ($5.50). Served on the side of a green salad, chopped chunks of hamachi neck are fried in a light batter. Biting through a crispy crust, you will find the meat the texture of marshmallow. A slight dunk into soy sauce provides the needed savory boost.
A dish that would take the gold trophy on Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern is the shiro kara, or raw squid in a brown paste ($6). Although the waitress advised it be consumed with alcohol, I don’t think it would have washed off the lingering taste of salt and malted rice. With a slimy consistency, the dish is truly an acquired taste.
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430 Geary Street
(at Mason Street)
San Francisco, CA 94102
MMon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:00 a.m.
Sat.-Sun. 12:00 p.m.-2:00 a.m.
Prices: $10 and up