If you associate "ramen" only with bargain bin soup starter, it's time to wake up and smell the long-simmered pork broth. Real ramen - the kind gourmands brave long restaurant lines for in Japan - has been spilling over into the U.S. for years now.
If you associate “ramen” only with bargain bin soup starter, it’s time to wake up and smell the long-simmered pork broth. Real ramen — the kind gourmands brave long restaurant lines for in Japan — has been spilling over into the U.S. for years now.
David Chang, one of the edgiest and most influential chefs in America, has been a leader in this artisanal ramen charge. But if you want a bowl of his restaurant ramen, you’ll have to go to New York City. If you want ramen made with the same great noodles Chang uses (from the laudable Sun company), you need only go to Bethel Road, where you’ll find delightful Meshikou.
Open since September, modest-sized Meshikou is an infectiously upbeat and mod ramen shop. Reclaimed wood and features like faux deer heads and splashy murals of noodles give it a buzzy ambiance. The sparkling clean place also sports amusing lighting effects, such as naked bulbs dangling overhead from irregularly looped cords that conjure up electrified pasta. There’s bar seating, but (currently) no adult drinks.
When facing Meshikou’s small menu packed with ramen jargon, you might need help ordering. You’ll get it — I found servers to be knowledgeable, friendly and patient.
The five starters include innocuous Crab Tacos ($7). Two recently fried and crunchy wheat flour shells contained imitation crab meat over ample mayo, corn, quick-cured cucumber pickles, cilantro and notes of heat and sweetness.
Meshikou’s Barbecue Chasu Buns ($7.50) are obviously modeled after David Chang’s. Like Chang’s iconic nosh, they’re pillowy, snow-white “Chinese buns” sandwiching quick-pickles, hoisin-sweet sauce and delicious chasu pork (marinated fatty pork belly). Unlike Chang’s seared pig-heavy bombers though, Meshikou’s only had slivers of overwhelmed and uncrisped meat.
Karaage ($7) — Japanese-style chicken nuggets — was a better value. Meshikou’s were crunchy, golden brown and refreshingly grease restrained. The thigh meat treats come with a tangy-sweet “spicy house citrus dipping sauce” that’s kicky, but masks the snack’s inherent charm.
Scalding hot flavorful broth is key to excellent traditional ramen. Meshikou’s short list includes successful soups made with its chintan (clear chicken broth) and tonkotsu (opaque pork broth) that were both properly scorching and stylistically convincing. Two mazeman ramen (a brothless, nouveau style) are also offered.
For an easy-to-love introduction to real ramen, try Meshikou’s Shio Chintan Ramen ($13). It’s just great chicken noodle soup (shio connotes salt) with a delectably concentrated broth engulfing bouncy noodles with attractive add-ons: lovely soft-boiled egg, corn, thin slices of silky chasu pork, scallion and kikurage mushrooms (“wood ear fungus” of Chinese take-out fame).
Those same winning garnishes — minus corn plus gentle fish cake slices — grace Meshikou’s signature and terrific Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen ($13). A soy sauce-based condiment (shoyu is soy sauce) flavors rich and long-developed pork broth (tonkotsu) with a creamy appearance and texture derived from long-cooked pork bones. Submerged beneath were wonderfully springy wavy noodles.
Like a little sting? Then get the rousing Spicy Miso Ramen ($13). With a chili bite offsetting Meshikou’s creamy tonkotsu broth further enriched by miso (salty fermented soybean paste), it’s a flavor-a-thon. Adding to the fun are those exemplary wavy noodles plus the usual suspects of garnishes.
For something completely different, the broth-free Yuzu Soy Mazeman ($11) resembles a Japanese pasta salad. Chilled wavy noodles tossed in a sweet citrusy dressing are artfully plopped atop “spring greens” (like arugula) and surrounded by quick-pickles, chasu and soft-boiled egg. A tuft of shredded nori helps supply (not enough) counterpoint to the pronounced sweetness.
Though newish, eminently likeable Meshikou is already in the upper-echelon of the evolving Columbus ramen scene. It might not amaze a cognoscente like David Chang, but I bet it’d make him smile. It did me.
Photos by Tim Johnson