Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kukai Ramen & Izakaya

Up until now, you had to go out of state or out of country to get good ramen.  Yes, there are a number of restaurants in the Seattle area that serve ramen but none of them were considered as "good".  Boom Noodle (which was in Bellevue Square but no longer) was pretty much all style and no taste with their ramen selection.  I read about Kukai opening up late last year to positive reviews and had to try it out to see if this was the best ramen in town.  I'm happy to say that it indeed lives up to that statement.

"... had to try it out to see if this was the best ramen in town"

My friends and I arrived at Kukai at around 1:30pm, missing the lunch crowd.  I heard that at noon, the wait can be pretty long so we were lucky that we were seated within 5 minutes.  The restaurant is long and narrow, with tables and chairs aligned on one side of the restaurant and an open kitchen on the other side. Walking inside, we were greeted with a warm "Irasshaimase" and once seated, we were greeted to a generous selection of appetizers and ramen.  From shio (salt) to shoyu (soy sauce based) to tonkotsu (pork broth), Kukai has the full set of ramen choices, including chicken ramen, spicy and shio yuzu (salt with citrus fruit) ramen.  I was tempted to get the shoyu ramen but saw that they had tsukemen (ramen noodles (either hot or cold) served on a plate with dipping sauce) and had to try it out.  Didn't try any of the appetizers so I'll have to come back to try them out.

My friends had the shoyu ramen.  The presentation of the ramen was ok; the topping were few and scattered around the top.  I was half expecting some bean sprouts and a dash of sesame seed oil but overall, it was serviceable.  I didn't get a taste of it but something to try out next time.

Shoyu Ramen:  soy sauce based broth with spinach, seaweed, bamboo shoots and chashu (pork)

 Tsukemen (noodles with dipping sauce):  wider noodles with spinach, shredded seaweed, bamboo shoots, and chashu (pork).  Delicious.

The tsukemen, on the other hand, was sheer perfection.  The noodles mixed with the shoyu based dipping sauce was super tasty.  The wider noodle lends itself well since there is more surface area to pick up the flavorful broth.  You get a good mix of slurping and chewing that made the eating experiene a pleasure.  The dipping sauce itself was slightly sweet with some tanginess, and mixed with scallions and a little chili powder, it was a welcome variation to the standard issue ramen.  The chashu pork was tender and almost melted in my mouth and elevated an already delicious dish to super yummy goodness.  I really liked it a lot.

Kukai is, without a doubt, the best ramen in town.  It certainly rivals Santoka Ramen in Vancouver, BC and a lot of the other ramen shops in the Los Angeles area.  It's certainly closer so I highly recommend going.

Kukai Ramen & Izakaya
14845 Main St
Bellevue 98007

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