Wichitans seem to fall in two different camps when it comes to ramen.
Members of the first camp, whom I heard from frequently after Jack Fukuda announced plans to open his Yokohama Ramen Joint earlier this year, cannot believe that anyone would pay so much for a bowl of ramen noodles. Hello? Give them 99 cents and three minutes with a microwave and they’ll make you some ramen noodles.
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Members of the second camp have been to big cities that are already deep into the ramen noodle movement and know that the Japanese soup is much more than packaged noodles. They love the exotic flavors and unusual ingredients in restaurant ramen, and it fills their desire for something different on the Wichita dining scene.
Fortunately for Fukuda, there are enough Wichitans in the second camp to keep the seats in his tiny Delano ramen restaurant filled most of the time.
Fukuda, who also owns the Beard Papa’s cream puff franchise in Towne East, opened Yokohama Ramen Joint at 613 W. Douglas in April. He celebrates his six-month anniversary on Monday.
▪ DON’T-MISS DISHES: Ramen served in restaurants like Yokohoma are nothing like the dry-and-crumbly stuff with a flavor packet you ate in your dorm room. It’s a rich soup made with broth that’s been simmering for hours, and it’s swimming with ingredients like pork, corn, bamboo shoots, soft boiled eggs and black mushrooms. The noodles, hidden in the bottom of the soup, are hearty and plentiful and filling.
But be warned – if you’re not up for a dining adventure, real ramen like Yokohama serves might not be for you. This is authentic stuff, and Fukuda has made no attempt to Americanize it for less daring palates.
Take for example the Yokohama-style ramen, one of the more popular dishes on Fukuda’s menu. The soy-based broth is a light brown color, and the flavors are deep and buttery. The soup is topped with a soft-boiled egg with whites that have turned a tad gray as it has soaked and that’s been sliced down the center to reveal its not-quite-solid, bright yellow yolk. Tender slices of bamboo shoot also look unfamiliar, as do the dark black mushrooms piled off to one side.
The protein in the soup is chashu pork, which is thin-sliced pork belly that’s streaked with fat. It’s a definite departure from the same-old, same-old for Wichita diners, and that’s what many Yokohama fans say they like. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m not able to get past the fatty pork, so I tend to slurp around it. But the savory broth is the stuff of my slow-simmered dreams.
The other most-popular ramen dish on Yokohama’s menu is the spicy garlic miso ramen, which is a much more colorful soup. It has a miso base, and the broth is almost red. The yellow corn floating in the soup adds an appealing color contrast. The soup also has the soft-boiled egg and the chashu pork, but it adds bean sprouts and lots of garlic clove slivers that give it a garlic punch.
Other ramen bowls emerge from the kitchen dramatically garnished with seaweed, and those who really want to make their soup interesting can choose from a long list of exotic add ons, from roasted seaweed to kimchi to seasoned baby octopus to Japanese fish cakes, which are a pink and white discs with a spiral design. (You’ve seen one before. Most smart phones have one in the emoji menu, near the soups.) Diners also can get gluten-free noodles, and Yokohama also serves both vegetarian and vegan versions of its ramen.
If this sounds like too much for you or your dining companion, though, the restaurant has plenty of safer options, including a teriyaki dish piled high with chicken that’s been coated in a dark, rich sauce. Several diners also were enjoying big bowls of fried rice, which can be ordered with chicken, pork or shrimp. Yokohama also serves yakisoba, a traditional Japanese stir fried noodle dish with cabbage, carrots and bean sprouts, and the restaurant tops its with fish flakes that are so paper thin, the steam from the dish makes them dance. It’s weird but wonderful.
Be sure order something from Yokohama’s appetizer menu, too. Its calamari tempura features a generous portion of calamari strips coated and fried in a perfectly light and crunchy tempura batter. Two dipping sauces are served on the side, and one has a spicy jalapeno kick. And Yokohama’s homemade gyoza, which are Japanese dumplings, have a savory pork stuffing inside a chewy dough and are a must-try.
We finished the meal with a boba tea that was taro flavored with a whimsical lavender hue. It’s sweet and milky, and the tapioca pearls floating in the bottom are fun to chew on.
▪ AMBIENCE: Yokohama is tight, with only about 30 seats, so it fills up quickly and it can be hard to move around. But the dining room is flooded with light and has a big-city cachet. Diners can watch Fukuda hard at work in the kitchen.
▪ PRICE RANGE: Ramen is $8.25-$9. Rice dishes are $5.79-$7.99. Appetizers are $3 to $7.50. A good time to try ramen would be on Monday, Oct. 24, which is Yokohama's six-month anniversary. From 6 to 8 p.m., they'll discount ramen to $6 a bowl.
▪ SERVICE: Yokohama has table service, and our waitress was professional and quick. The restaurant does ask diners to take their checks to the register at the back of the restaurant to cash out, which is fine except that it’s hard to maneuver the tiny restaurant when its crowded.
Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
Yokohama Ramen Joint
☆☆☆ out of four
Where: 613 W. Douglas, 316-260-7031
Type of food: Ramen, Japanese
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Wednesdays.