Hakata Ramen Shin-Sen-Gumi
1601 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
When I posted a photo on Twitter (via Instagram) of my ramen at the new Shin-Sen-Gumi that just opened on Sawtelle, Han responded by basically saying:
And he is exactly right. In the last couple of years, “Little Osaka” has seen the openings of the following ramen shops (in chronological order): Tsujita, Tatsu, Jinya (which already shuttered), Tsujita Annex, Daikokuya, and now Shin-Sen-Gumi. For an area that spans three blocks (and that’s generous, although I’m aware Shin-Sen-Gumi is technically a little north of the actual Little Osaka), six openings is a lot, let alone six restaurants that serve the same type of food (and don’t forget that Hayatemaru and Kotoya are less than a mile away, too). Maybe Shin-Sen-Gumi should’ve opened one of their yakitori or shabu shabu locations here. So how are these ramen shops standing out from one another, especially when they really do serve similar products (tonkotsu ramen)?
In the case of Shin-Sen-Gumi, they’ve taken the road that Hayatemaru has traveled, and that is to have half portions of the ramen, along with a vast variety of appetizers, rice bowls, etc. I counted ~30 different appetizers available, most at a very reasonable price of $3.50. I highly suggest mixing and matching ramen with these choices. However, there is only one choice re: ramen, and that is their hakata ramen, although you can customize the ramen’s noodles/oil/base, and there are almost as many options for ramen toppings as appetizers (but no soft-boiled egg – c’mon guys, it’s 2013!). As a refresher course, here’s the description of hakata ramen from Wikipedia:
“Hakata ramen originates from Hakata district of Fukuoka city in Kyushu. It has a rich, milky, pork-bone tonkotsu broth and rather thin, non-curly and resilient noodles. Often, distinctive toppings such as crushed garlic, beni shoga (pickled ginger), sesame seeds, and spicy pickled mustard greens (karashi takana) are left on tables for customers to serve themselves. Ramen stalls in Hakata and Tenjin are well-known within Japan. Recent trends have made Hakata ramen one of the most popular types in Japan, and several chain restaurants specializing in Hakata ramen can be found all over the country.”
With that last sentence, it’s no wonder why the style is so popular in LA, and specifically why Shin-Sen-Gumi has successful locations around the city. Personally, I think the ramen here is solid – the thin, non-curly noodles are not bad, and the broth is pretty well-developed in terms of porkiness and flavor (but I suggest going with the “strong” options for oil and base), but I won’t go any further than that with the acclaim, especially when the chashu is two thin slices of lean sadness. It’s just a solid bowl, nothing more. But that’s why you order the half portion, so you can accompany your small bowl of ramen with a rice bowl, or maybe a couple of appetizers. These are the ones I tried ($3.50 unless otherwise noted):
Gyoza (12 pcs/$5.15) – they look and taste like the frozen ones at Trader Joe’s, which isn’t a bad thing. But in a retail setting, feel free to skip.
Fried chicken ($5.50) – their karaage is more Southern than Japanese with regards to batter, with some herb and pepper flavors. Pretty good, but really wished the marinate was more Japanese with the soy/mirin/sake flavors. It was really well-fried though.
Agedashi tofu – the batter had kind of a mochi-esque texture, and the sauce was more or less just straightforward soy, but can’t complain about three decent-sized pieces at $3.50.
Kintaro croquette – essentially deep-fried mashed potato balls. Served with kewpie mayo on the side. Probably pass on this one.
Soft shell crab – a single deep-fried soft shell crab, of the frozen variety, served with the typical ponzu. Very standard, but for $3.50, I actually think that this is a great choice.
None of these appetizers are breaking any ground, but for $3.50-5.50 each, what did you expect? They’re not supposed to be the main focus of the restaurant anyways. But mix a bunch of these solid choices, and you have yourself a more-than-solid meal at a very affordable price. The restaurant is actually pretty big (sit at the counter and you can see the surprisingly-large kitchen), and the staff is extremely courteous. Parking is ample, since there is nothing on Sawtelle north of Santa Monica. This is within walking distance of my apartment, so I’ll definitely be back (and it opens until midnight every night, too). But Tsujita x2, your kung fu grip on the throne remains ever so strong.
|Japanese, Ramen||West LA||$||N/A|