The new Ramen Bar (Facebook page) on the 4000 block of Locust Street makes pretty good ramen, but I’m not convinced the awesomeness of the broth is enough to overcome my disappointment with the experience of dining there. Certainly the place is attractive: it’s packed with young people and the wooden tables, classy utensils and open kitchen give the feel of an authentic Japanese noodle bar. The hard, clean, high-ceilinged environment (and two TVs and a loud sound system) also means you have to shout a lot, which can be invigorating. And of course the place is new, so the service is bound to improve. However, the food and the prices will probably stay the same.
My friends and our daughters went as a group of six and were seated quickly at about 6:15 on Sunday night. The bar isn’t serving yet, but we weren’t drinking. We ordered several kinds of ramen and a couple of appetizers. The seaweed salad ($5) was bright green but barely seasoned and the shrimp shumai ($6) was almost as good as Trader Joe’s frozen shumai, but not quite. I was underwhelmed by the Takoyaki ($6), fragments of octopus balled up in fried dough and served with what tasted like fast food barbeque sauce. We would have been better off skipping all three.
We chose from a variety of ramen, plus optional, separately priced toppings including Ajitma ($1 marinated boiled egg – perfectly cooked) and Chashu ($3 marinated pork – just OK, not so easy to chew). Both the vegan and non-vegan versions of Veggie Miso Ramen ($8) featured rich, deliciously flavored broth. The noodles were bouncy and filling, and the vegetables mostly great, but we thought the corn niblets were weird. The signature Tonkotsu (pork bone) Ramen ($10) and its spicy cousin Kara Kara Tonkotsu Ramen ($12) were very satisfying, and will seem even more so on a snowy winter night. I was definitely happy with the ramen, and really happy about that yummy marinated egg.
For dessert, the kids ordered ice cream; they found the green tea ice cream ($5) too bitter (though I liked it). The red bean ice cream ($5) was sweeter. In the end, five bowls of ramen, one unremarkable fried rice entree, three appetizers, and three dishes of ice cream set us back $117.76. If the food and service had been impeccable, I would feel better about the prices. But the sad, meager appetizers, random service, and especially the automatic 20% gratuity (for a table of six) made me feel like I was missing something. And I realized that what I was missing was Tampopo (269 S. 44th Street), which is less fancy but more accessible if you are looking for ramen, seaweed salad, and green tea ice cream.
Ramen Bar is currently cash-only. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner from 4 to 10 p.m.