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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Ken Ken Ramen Review We Never Published

Posted By on Wed, Nov 17, 2010 at 2:35 PM

click to enlarge The way it was: Bowl of Ken Ken Ramen earlier this year at Panchita's #3. - LUIS CHONG
  • Luis Chong
  • The way it was: Bowl of Ken Ken Ramen earlier this year at Panchita's #3.

When Ken Ken Ramen reappears tomorrow night at The Corner, new chef Taka Hori won't be the pop-up's only change. There's now a shio ramen, and the broth recipe has been adjusted with more veggies and a new slow-roasted chasu. Prices remain the same as they were at Panchita's, but with an option to add extra toppings.

We've been following Ken Ken for four months now. We originally delayed reporting on the ramen pop-up by Robert Patterson, Stefan Roesch, and former chef Kenji Miyazaki to avoid triggering a repeat of Ramengate 2010, which also gave us the opportunity to thoroughly sample the short menu and check for consistency.

Ken Ken's original Panchita's menu had a choice of miso, shoyu, spicy miso, and a miso vegetarian ramen for $11. Meals started with a complimentary dish of chile-garlic edamame, boiled soybean pods tossed with sautéed minced garlic and sambal ― a tasty appetizer popular in Southern California and on the East Coast.

click to enlarge Ken Ken's chile-garlic edamame. - LUIS CHONG
  • Luis Chong
  • Ken Ken's chile-garlic edamame.

As for the ramen, the ingredients were on par with those in ramen shops in the South Bay. The original regular broth base was made with niboshi dashi (dried sardines), and dried shiitake dashi was used for the vegetarian version. The regular broth base was then blended with a stock of chicken parts and vegetables, made from scratch. The result was a gentle broth (even the shoyu version was milder than most).

Ramen bowls included chasu pork, mizuna, nori (seaweed), a slow-cooked egg (aka hanjuku tamago), spring onions, the ubiquitous pink-bordered fishcake, and thin bamboo shoots imported from Japan ― a huge improvement over the canned bamboo used in other local ramen shops. Like many ramen aficionados we're fans of runny egg yolks, so we love hanjuku tamago, slow-boiled eggs later steeped in a sweet soy sauce marinade, as opposed to the overcooked, cafeteria-style hard boiled eggs found at almost all other S.F. ramen shops.

During an earlier visit to Panchita's, we watched Patterson happily obliging a customer's request for kae-dama ("kah-eh-dah-mah"; to request a refill of noodles for your remaining broth). At the time we didn't feel comfortable asking for it, given the limited number of portions Ken Ken had available each Monday. None of the customers we saw were charged for the extra portion. And although free kae-dama promotions are common in Asia to attract new customers, other diners usually have to pay. Ken Ken's revised menu addresses that problem: Additional toppings (chasu pork, more noodles, or another egg) will be available for $3 each.

We can't wait to find out what Ken Ken's new and improved broth tastes like. We'll let you know what we think.

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Luis Chong

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