Ramen shops in Japan are as ubiquitous as burger joints are in America. These kinds of noodle shops seem to be just about everywhere in the land of Nippon, especially in large cities where ramen commonly gets slurped for lunch and is also popular with the late-night bar crowd looking to soak up all that rice lager and sake.
Japanese-style ramen has become all the rage in America’s West Coast cities in the new millennium. Let’s not confuse this real-deal ramen with the kind of mushy Top Ramen you cooked on a hot plate in your college dorm room back in the day. No, I’m talking about chewy-good Chinese-influenced wheat noodles plopped in a deep bowl with aromatic meat broth, slow-cooked meats, veggies and a soft-boiled egg.
So goes the thinking of Yuji Hirose, who recently debuted Ramen Sho in the former Shige Japanese Steakhouse spot — up the escalator on the mezzanine level of the Capitol Terrace building along 8th Street. His goal was to bring an authentic, fast-casual ramen experience to Boise diners.
The décor speaks to this casual sensibility (after all, it’s a ramen joint), with sparse Japanese accents and a big anime mural of a samurai dude slurping noodles on the outside wall that presides over diners on the spacious patio.
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As the eatery’s name suggests, it’s all about ramen here. The rest of the menu — like appetizers and everything else that’s not ramen soup — appears to be a work in progress, as Hirose and his crew try to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
One day I had planned to start things off with an order of fries dusted with yukari (Japanese basil flakes), but our server told us the appetizer was no longer offered. How about the karaage fried chicken? Sorry, that one’s not available today, either, I was informed.
I finally settled on the grilled gyoza dumplings ($5.99), a plate of typical griddle-seared pot stickers (filled with gingery ground pork and scallion) served with rice wine vinegar-infused soy sauce.
I also tagged on a side of pork belly ($4.99), strips of slowly braised and seared marbled pork akin to bacon without all the smoke and spice.
Service is frantic and disorganized at times. On this day, the servers were running into one another, forgetting to bring soup spoons and napkins, and water glasses didn’t get refilled.
I was hoping to see the cooks busily working away, rolling, stretching and cutting wheat noodles. But I was informed that the restaurant buys fresh ramen noodles from a Seattle-based purveyor of Japanese foods. All the ramen noodles come bathed in a slow-cooked chicken and pork-bone broth (seasoned with more than 20 ingredients) that’s made in house, though.
Ordering the tonkotsu ramen ($9.99) will get you a bowl of toothsome wheat noodles swimming in the aforementioned succulent broth, adorned with tender slabs of pork belly, spindly wood mushrooms, wilted spinach, chopped scallion, crunchy bean sprouts, threads of pickled ginger and a lightly boiled half egg, losing its yolk into the broth with the turn of a chopstick.
The spicy miso ramen ($9.99) possesses the same flavorful broth, only it’s cut with earthy-tasting miso and a healthy dose of chili paste. Besides the noodles, the bowl of soup also has slices of pork belly, mushrooms, spinach, sprouts, pickled ginger and egg, in addition to kernels of corn.
During a second visit, thankfully service was much smoother and more appetizers were available.
I started things off with the panko-breaded and fried avocado ($4.99). It’s a good appetizer, yet the crunchy, golden-brown avocado slices (which could have used some salt before the breading process) were bland on their own. But it didn’t matter much after dipping them in the nose-clearing, creamy wasabi sauce.
Karaage ($4.99) is essentially morsels of breaded and deep-fried skin-on chicken breast (rather chewy and tough, I must add) served with an herby wasabi ranch dressing. Surely nothing to write home to Tokyo about with this starter.
A bowl of shoyu ramen ($9.99) has the same accoutrements as the other ramen soups, but the savory and light broth simply gets perfumed with soy sauce. And it boasts an oceanic accent thanks to a crisp sheet of nori on top. While it may not be as exciting as the other ramen, the broth becomes more complex once the egg releases its yolk.
For now, vegetarians are out of luck when it comes to ramen. No worries, though. Hirose in the coming weeks has plans to expand the ramen offerings.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 150 N. 8th St., Boise
Phone: (208) 209-7075
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Menu price range: Appetizers and salads $3.99-$5.99; ramen soups $9.99.
Libation situation: Draft beers and bottles of Japanese rice lager (Sapporo and Kirin), plum wine, hot and cold sake and fun sake-spiked cocktails.
Kid friendly? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes, there’s an elevator in the parking garage that takes you to the mezzanine level.
Opened: May 2017