Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Robata Jinya: Rediscovering my love for ramen

I’ve mentioned it before – at least a dozen times, in fact. I was a picky child. I didn’t like food. I made my mom strain the onions out of sauces.

Yada yada yada.

That said, there were actually a few foods that I did enjoy when I wasn’t busy pushing my plate away with disgust. I would happily eat fruit, bread, anything containing sugar (especially Gummy Bears), and, my favorite food of all, Top Ramen. Of course, at the time, I had my mom drain most of the broth away so I could savor just the noodles.

While my palate has grown immensely since those years, my appreciation for noodles has remained strong. I’m a white carb-loving girl at heart and no amount of quinoa, barley or oatmeal will ever interfere with my adoration of simple sugars. Especially now that I’ve discovered just how good real ramen can be.

I’ve only encountered unpackaged ramen three times in my life, but after my last bowl of ramen at Robata Jinya, the new Japanese robata restaurant on West Third Street that is owned by the same man who runs Jonathan Gold-approved Ramen Jinya in Studio City, I might soon be declaring it one of my favorite foods once again.

The sleekly styled restaurant is a nice addition to West Third Street – a necessary addition in my mind. The cuisine is woefully unrepresented in West Hollywood, and the price-points of Robata’s dishes are shockingly low relative to its neighbors on the block. A chopped chicken salad at the woefully mediocre Toast down the street will cost diners more than the most expensive bowl of ramen at Robata – the $9.50 Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen that is made with premium pork broth and limited to twenty servings a day. Almost all the dishes are priced under $10, with the exception of the Miso Black Cod ($12), the Half Lobster Tail with Garlic Butter ($24) and the Tom and Ebisu Rolls (both $12).

The reasonable prices make it easy to over order. Starving after a long day selling (and eating) baked goods at Eat My Blog on Saturday, my tongue was tingling for almost every savory on the menu. To start, I couldn’t resist the allure of the Creamy Shrimp Tempura ($5.90) – one of my favorite Japanese tapas. While I prefer the versions I’ve had at Matsuhisha and Katsuya, Robata’s offering doesn’t disappoint. The tempura batter covering the snappy, meaty shrimp is light and crisp – so light, in fact, that it started to come off a few of the pieces. I might have preferred a bit more kick from the slightly mundane “spicy” aioli, but I was pleased with the overall quality for the price.

The grilled items from the robata – the restaurant’s specialty – are, unsurprisingly, even more successful. Served with three dipping sauces – a garlic soy-based sauce, a cilantro yuzu sauce and the same aioli coating the shrimp – they emerge from the grill piping hot and satisfyingly smoky. Amy from the Roaming Belly and I shared three of the vegetable items – the sweet, slightly caramelized Japanese Pumpkin ($1.90), Eryngii Mushrooms ($2.40) and the Eggplant ($1.80). While I loved the assertive texture of the mushrooms and natural sweetness of the pumpkin that was further enhanced by the smoke from the grill, I couldn’t stop eating the hunks of whole purple eggplant. The delicate tufts of bonito flakes served over the top are the perfect salty counterpoint to the earthy eggplant – there’s no need to strain, drain or pick anything off here.

Despite my adoration for vegetables in all iterations, it’s Robata’s Kyoto Spicy Ramen ($8.50) with mildly spiced pork broth that has me already plotting a return visit to my new neighborhood haunt. While I did miss the addition of an egg (apparently, diners must request to have one added for an extra $1), I loved the springy texture of the noodles that come laced with marinated bean sprouts and tender ribbons of spinach and leeks. The slices of pork belly, while not meltingly tender, are decidedly leaner than other representations and the broth itself is less aggressively salty and potently porky. It’s a lighter bowl of ramen – something I wouldn’t feel guilty about consuming on a regular basis. Which, incidentally, I plan to do in the future.

While I’ll always have a fondness in my heart for the chicken flavor Top Ramen noodles I used to love so much as a muddy-kneed Kindergartener, I’m excited to open up my heart to the more adult, authentic version. In time, I may even have to relinquish my title as the Quinoa Queen. I’m starting to think that the Ramen Wrangler has a pretty nice ring to it too…

Robata Jinya
8050 West 3rd Street
Los Angeles ,CA 90048



Alessandra said...

I was OBSESSED with Top Ramen when I was a kid. Luckily, I, too, have discussed real ramen, and it is absolutely delicious!

Esi said...

Wait, what?! You have to pay extra for an egg?! Isn't that like one of the best parts of ramen? No matter, I will gladly pay an extra buck. I need to go!!

Monet said...

I also loved Top Ramen when I was young (but I was only able to eat it at friends' houses). My health conscious parents were not the biggest fans! This more adult, sophisticated and authentic version of ramen sounds and looks too good to be true! I wish I could visit this restaurant! Thank you for sharing. I hope you have a lovely evening!

Gastronomer said...

Ramen Wrangler <--- I like it! You gotta get a bowl from Daikokuya, it's cheap, good, and no extra $ for an egg. Win!

Ashley said...

Stop going to restaurants that look amazing without me!

the actor's diet said...

how i love ramen! thanks for letting us know about this new place!

Darin said...

I haven't had a chance to try either of the Jinyas out yet, but I really need to make that trip.

I agree with Cathy - a visit to Daikokuya is a must!

Fritos and Foie Gras said...

ramen is one of the all time best foods...ever. the next time you come to nyc, be sure to check out ippudo. FANTASTIC, if expensive, ramen!

bagnatic said...

man, a bowl of ramen after eat my blog was a DAMN good thing. thanks for suggesting it diana!

btw, you have a freakishly good memory. how did you remember all this info? i don't remember seeing you jot any of this down.

Kung Food Panda said...

Ramen does a body good. You need to try the Shio Ramen at Santouka and the ramen at Daikokuya in DTLA :)