Thursday, September 18, 2008

M.S.G. (Miso - Shoyu at Gardena) Ramen

Probably one of the best-rated Ramen shops in Southern California (after Santouka), Gardena Ramen (in Torrance) was a Ramen shop I was *so* looking forward to! I remember reading the wonderful review from Rameniac, and hearing more about it from others. It made my tomodachi Keizo's list of top Ramen-ya in 2007. :)

So on a warm, relaxing So Cal Summer day, I walked into Gardena Ramen, excited at the prospect of getting the famous Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce-base Ramen Noodle Soup). As I had read about, Nakamura-san - the devoted Ramen cook and owner - had his menu up on the wall with just 3 regular items: Shoyu Ramen, Miso Ramen and Gyoza. That's it (besides drinks). This was exciting, and I was looking forward to a specialist who wasn't bogged down trying to satisfy everyone, but rather delivering a focused specialty.

I sat down and ordered their Shoyu Ramen and Gyoza and awaited the food.

The Gyoza (Pan-fried Dumplings) arrived first, with an order consisting of 6 pieces. The Gyoza tasted really salty, with a thicker skin than what I prefer. The meat filling reminded me of a store-bought, pre-packaged version. Overall, it was disappointing, but that didn't matter too much, since I was here for the Ramen. :)

Finally the Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce-based Ramen Noodle Soup) arrived: A large, hot bowl of fragrant goodness. Or so I thought. The aroma was good, and taking a sip, this was definitely something more complex than the usual Soy Sauce Broth found at many Ramen restaurants in So Cal. It had notes of Fish and Chicken, and a light Shoyu (Soy Sauce) base. It was pretty tasty, but I felt it might've been a bit salty (just a touch). But after a few sips, I noticed the dreaded crutch that plagues too many Asian restaurants: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). (>_<)

I minimized as much of the Broth intake as possible, and focused on the other ingredients. The Ramen noodles were pretty good, with a nice texture, a good thickness without being too thick, and different from the usual yellow, curly noodle found in many places). The Chashu (Slow-cooked Pork Slices) were average, tasting slightly old (i.e., not made fresh that day). And the Chashu had a strange look to it (see picture). The Bamboo was also average.

The Tamago (Egg) was hard-boiled (as is standard in So Cal), and OK, nothing special.

I chatted with Nakamura-san after the meal, and asked him if he used MSG in his broth, and he confirmed that he did use it.

(On a side note: I am particularly weak to MSG and it affects me the worst out of all my friends. I had a dry throat and a slight headache for the rest of the afternoon. :(

I had hoped that maybe it was an off day, and I wanted to get one more opinion on the Ramen, so I went back to Gardena Ramen with a big Ramen Hound friend of mine. We both tried the Shoyu Ramen, and I didn't want to skew his opinion, so I didn't say anything to him about my previous experience, to get his unbiased thoughts and reaction. He loved the Ramen (noodles and broth), but noted that there was some MSG (he gets less effected by MSG than I do, but still gets dry mouth/throat), but he was fine otherwise and didn't mind it too much (but he preferred places that didn't use it). I suffered the same reaction as last time. :(

Gardena Ramen is a simple two-person operation, with Nakamura-san in the back cooking, and an older lady taking orders and delivering the food. A bowl of either of their Ramen is $6.50 and their Gyoza is $3.50.

Gardena Ramen is a small, simple hole-in-the-wall restaurant that focuses on delivering Shoyu and Miso Ramen noodles to its patrons. Nakamura-san shows guts and dedication with such a limited menu, and I applaud him for that. Unfortunately, for me, with my weak defense against MSG, Gardena Ramen is a disappointment: Beyond my reaction to these "flavor crystals," I find it sad that any restaurant has to use MSG as a crutch to "spice up" their food. During my Japan Trip in the Spring, the quality and level of Ramen was so amazing (without MSG), that it proves that it's definitely possible to create great Ramen without it. In fact, all the Ramen-yas I ate at in Japan were far superior to the Ramen-yas I've eaten at that rely on MSG, in taste, execution and quality of ingredients. But I would say, if you don't have an aversion to MSG, Gardena Ramen is definitely worth a visit, with a nice, layered Shoyu Ramen broth and good noodles for an L.A. Ramen-ya.

Rating: 6.5 (out of 10.0)

Gardena Ramen
1840 West 182nd Street
Torrance, CA 90504
Tel: (310) 324-6993

Hours: 7 Days A Week, [Lunch] 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
[Dinner] 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.


Anonymous said...

I was disappointed in Gardena ramen too. I mostly remember that the broth was very oil. Try Asa Ramen across Western in the Union Bank plaza. The shoyu broth is better, but the chasu pork were almost all fat and no meat.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, I meant OILY.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Lesley,

Sorry to hear you were also disappointed. I've tried Asa before, thanks for the tip, though. :) I enjoyed Asa more than Gardena.

Anonymous said...

Not to jump on the bandwagon here, but I too thought Asa was better than Gardena Ramen...their takoyaki offerings which include cheese and mochi takoyaki are a nice, refreshing change from the plain Jane gyoza at Gardena...which are frankly unremarkable. They taste like some Ajinomoto frozen gyoza you can buy at Mitsuwa or Marukai.

Moreover, the hosomen style noodles at Asa are quite tasty too.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Peter,

Oh yah, Asa's variety of Takoyaki offerings were definitely nice (although short of the goodness I had in Ueno Park in Tokyo, it was nice to have some solid offerings at Asa :).

Anonymous said...

I don't doubt the Asa takoyaki pale in comparison to those in Tokyo...I'm sure those even pale in comparison to what you'd find in Osaka...takoyaki is Osaka's most famous snack food after all, along with okonomiyaki perhaps :)

As for ramen, I don't think any ramen-ya can hold a candle to what you could find in Tokyo. I went to the Ramen Musuem in Shin Yokohama before...that was a pretty fun place...several famous ramen shops from around the country all under one roof.

Keizo Shimamoto said...

Hi Exile Kiss, great review! I'm sorry to hear about your disappointment with Gardena Ramen. I didn't realize they used so much MSG. I sometimes wonder how they stay in business. I went on a Saturday at 7pm before and nobody was in there nor did anyone show up the whole time I was there. But like you said it's still worth a visit.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Keizo,

I'm glad I tried it. Like I said, my review is skewed in that, unfortunately, I can't handle MSG, but many people I know have minor or no problems, in which case, Gardena Ramen would be just fine. I can't wait to try your FFT rec! :) Thanks.

H. C. said...

Thanks for reviewing -- been meaning to try but looks like it'll go lower on my list now. MSG isn't so much an issue for me but if the toppings are just average, I might as well stick with the closer Orochan and Daikokuya in Little Tokyo for now.

I gave up ordering on gyoza entirely unless at the insistence of my dining companions, since I'm sure 99% of Japanese places use a store-bought version (which I can prepare myself for much less). The only potstickers I trust are from Chinese dumpling houses now...

Exile Kiss said...

Hi H.C.,

Thanks. Yah, looking past the MSG, the broth was probably the best aspect of their Shoyu Ramen. Not worth an extended drive if this was your only reason to visit.

Good point about the Gyoza; it's just a habit whenever I go to a Ramen-ya to see if it's any good (usually in So Cal, it's not :(.

Keizo Shimamoto said...

Takeshi-san tells me that you've been to Foo-Foo at least 3 times already. Nice! I can't wait to read your review!!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Keizo,

I have no idea what you're talking about. :P

edjusted said...

Great review! I'm sorry to hear about your MSG "weakness." Haha. I happen to *like* MSG, though I'm not too crazy about that sort of cotton-mouth feeling I get at some places that are a bit too enthusiastic with their MSG.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi edjusted,

Thanks. Yah, I remember you like MSG (^_~), so that's cool. I just can't handle it and unfortunately can't enjoy places that like to use it a lot.

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