A few years back (was it that long ago?), it seemed that Houstonians of all stripes were going crazy over ramen. Publications were running stories such as “The Ramen You Must Eat Before You Die” and “This Ramen is as Good as Anything in Japan.”
It was the Cronut all over again. I didn’t believe the hype, and after trying a few places recommended in several articles, my skepticism was vindicated. It seems that Ramen Dreams are difficult to realize. Bland and watery broths and mealy noodles are more the stuff of nightmares.
That said, there are a number of restaurants in the Houston area serving some fine ramen (I use a bowl I ordered a few years ago in Tokyo as my benchmark; its flavor was ethereal and solid at the same time, and it is the best tonkotsu ramen I have ever tasted), and I had one this past week for lunch. It was everything the dish should be, and nothing more. Once again, the broth was both rich and technically graceful: nothing cloying here.
The place is Kata Robata, and if you want this tonkotsu ramen, you will have to go at lunch, because that’s when they serve it.
The dish (bowl) is a thing of beauty, the egg yolks a golden yellow, the greens vivid and deep, the broth so … so ineffably satisfying. You’ll want to taste that broth first on its own, so take a spoonful and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds. It grows more complex as it lingers. The round, thin pieces of pork in this ramen are tender and full of flavor, and the umami component .. well, it’s sufficient to say that if the waiter had strained the bowl at my table and taken away everything but the broth, I would have been fine with his actions.
The liquid is that good. I removed some of the noodles from the bowl and put them on a plate, and discovered they were prepared perfectly, firm yet smooth; they did not fall apart in the broth.
The chef at Kata Robata, Manabu Horiuchi, was this past week nominated for the James Beard award in the best chef/Southwest category, and his techniques (and those displayed by his kitchen crew) are stellar. It’s an inviting space, and the service is unassuming and professional.
Get the ramen, and come back for dinner for sushi.