Regina and I have been anticipating the opening of Yamadaya Ramen for weeks. We live within walking distance of a corner storefront that sat empty for months; one day a banner appeared, another day construction workers were seen putting together a lunch counter, on another a small cement mixer was visible in the main dining area, and then one day a paper sign heralded the opening in nine days, then five days. The sign promising an opening within five days seemed to hang there for two weeks or more. But then, one magic evening, it was open.
|Firm, thin, straight noodles, perfectly cooked and toothsome.|
Regina and I love ramen noodle soup; in fact, we love all sorts of noodle soups — mai fun, pho, mein ga, sansai ramen, soba kakejiru, bun rieu, etc. etc. We will drive all over town for good noodles — Filet Mignon Pho at Vietnam House in San Gabriel, Chasu and Midori ramen at Ramen-Ya in West LA, the eponymous ramen at Daikokuya in Japantown downtown, Tan-Tan Men at Chin-Ma-Ya also in downtown, wonton and duck noodle soup at Har Lam Kee in Monterey Park, pork & egg noodle soup at Liang’s Kitchen in Alhambra, spicy beef soup with hand-cut noodles at 101 Noodle, just to name a few.
Of course we’d heard great things about the Torrance location of Yamadaya but had never quite made it down there, because, seriously, why would we ever go to Torrance? We were thrilled to finally get a quality ramen restaurant not only in Culver City but within a ten minute walk from our house! Whoopie!
I think they’d only been open for four days when our schedules permitted a visit. The place was packed and we put our name on the list. Luckily we only waited about fifteen minutes and then we are ushered to a table in the middle of the slightly cavernous, overly-lit, semi-industrial space. It seemed too bright. The table was a little rickety. The place was clean, perhaps a bit noisy from all the hard surfaces. It felt very new.
|Open only four days and it’s super-busy already.|
The back wall describes the process for their slow-cooked pork broth — 120 pounds of pork bones boiled for 20 hours, etc. You see, Yamadaya Ramen specializes in Tonkotsu ramen, a super rich pork broth that is the rage in Tokyo. They also have Tsukemen, which is chilled noodles with the hot pork broth on the side as a dipping sauce. And tonkatsu, chicken katsu, chicken kare-age, and a selection of mini rice bowls, which Regina thought we be perfect for our son Bennet.
We figured we should start with the basics. Ramen noodles are their claim to fame and if the ramen wasn’t good then well…why bother with the rest? Regina ordered the Yamadaya ramen and I wanted the Tonkotsu Kotteri Ramen, which is their classic ramen but with a heap of minced pork fatback. How could I refuse more pork fat? Except that they refused me. They were out, explained our young and obviously inexperienced server-girl. So, I ordered the Tokotsu Ramen and a side of Kare-Age Chicken.
|They post the broth recipe on the wall!|
|Chicken kare-age is crisp, light, and delicious. It’s missing the sauce mentioned on the menu, unfortunately.|
The chicken came first and it was perfectly fried and surprisingly light. The small salad of shaved cabbage was a nice counterpoint. My only complaint was that it lacked a sauce. I squeezed some lemon over the top and dipped it into a little soy, which was nice, but the menu mentioned it was “topped with tartar sauce”. Hmmm, no evidence of tartar sauce or any other mayo-based condiment. Our server, when asked about the absent sauce, said, “oh, it just comes that way.” Well, then, okay. Moving on.
|Regina is acting all secretive about something. Wanna guess what?|
|Yamadaya Ramen with chashu pork. So rich and delish.|
Our ramen bowls showed up shortly after. The broth was the same and the ingredients almost the same. In mine, the tonkotsu ramen, was a super-tender and flavorful hunk of simmered pork belly, with two halves of soft-boiled egg (perfectly cooked), some green onions, bamboo shoots, and three sheets of crisp nori, which softened nicely in the hot broth. Regina’s Yamadaya ramen had slices of very tender, slow-cooked chashu pork, only one half an egg, and a pile of crunchy woodear mushrooms. Toppings aside, the dishes were identical.
The noodles were thinner and straighter than you’ll find elsewhere. They weren’t the curly, thicker fresh noodles many of the best ramen houses serve. They were delicious, however, and worked perfectly with the super-rich, dense broth. This broth reminded me somewhat of the broth at Santa Ramen (before they moved three years ago) in San Mateo, which some of my Nor-Cal peeps might know of. This broth is creamy, a bit smoky, briney (I suspect a big slab of kombu simmering in the broth all night.), and very, very porky. This is some serious broth — complex, deep, almost funky. It was absolutely delicious. But very filling.
|Tonkatsu Ramen with super-tender pork belly, soft-boiled egg, and nori sheets.|
Will we go back? You betcha. We have lots of things left to try on the menu. Does this ramen supplant my other favorites? Well, no. At least, not yet. I crave the clean broth of the chashu ramen at Ramen-Ya. I love that spicy Tan-Tan Men at Chin-Ma-Ya. Will this ramen at Yamadaya eventually eclipse those favorites? I’m not so sure. But it is delicious and it is cheap and it is close.
However, the service is just not there yet. The menu proclaimed that this is their “soft” opening, which basically means that they’re feeling their way toward professionalism. Okay, but they’d better hurry up! I think they may have underestimated the craving people have for noodles in a neighborhood sorely lacking. They have been packed all week. And from what I’ve heard they’ve run out of things every night. And some nights have seen very long waits for tables and for food. Good intentions and hustle will only get you so far; at some point they have to get these problems ironed out, and quick, or they’ll run the risk of losing customers just as fast as they get them in now.
Will they eventually iron these kinks out? Probably. And when that happens, Yamadaya Ramen will be a real contender on the Westside. But right now, not yet. Not quite yet.
|The pleasant but inexperienced staff needs to step up their game!|
Culver City, CA 90230
Neighborhood: Culver City