When Monta launched a ramen revolution in this town a few years ago, I fell in love with the place, and the food, because of its simplicity. Sure, when done well, it’s amazingly elegant. But unlike many exotic foreign foods, this simple noodle and broth dish was accessible to just about everyone. There was nothing in it to scare away the uninitiated. And for the most part, you can say the same for the product offered in the many ramen places that have sprung up across our valley. I’m not so confident, however, making that statement about Shoku Ramen-Ya. The food offered there is a bit more complex and a bit more challenging. If Monta and its followers offer Ramen 101, this is more of a post-graduate study.
Shoku Ramen-Ya is located next door to the original Bachi Burger location on the corner of Windmill Lane and Bermuda Road, and is owned by the same people. It’s a small, modern space with a similar décor as its sister restaurant.
When the restaurant opened its doors less than a year ago, it offered three of the most popular types of ramen: the cloudy pork bone broth known as tonkotsu ($8), the clear chicken broth shoyu ($7.50) and the simple miso ($8.50). There were also several more exotic choices, such as spicy miso ($8.50), lobster miso ($16), a dish called tan tan men made with shrimp and scallops ($11), and a brothless noodle dish known as abura soba ($8). While the original options are still listed on the menu, lobster miso and plain miso are no longer being offered. (Spicy miso is still available.) It also offers rice bowls made with everything from fermented soy bean ($4) to salmon roe ($8)
With miso now unavailable, ramen beginners are left with only two off the most basic styles of ramen: tonkotsu and shoyu. On my recent visit I tried the tonkotsu. The chefs here cook the pork bone broth a minimum of 20 hours, and it shows in the amazing rich taste. The thin white noodles, which are outsourced but made with the restaurant’s proprietary recipe, are also extremely good. And while the large slices of pork aren’t as thin or as tender as what I’ve had at other ramen restaurants, they’re more flavorful than most. Mixed with the bamboo shoots, wood-ear mushrooms and green onions, they create a delicious broth that’s more complex than what’s being offered at other restaurants.
As interesting as our tonkotsu was, however, I was far more intrigued by the abura soba, which I tried for the first time here. Served without broth, it’s a bowl of thick wavy noodles, roast pork, green onions, bamboo shoots, kaiware (radish sprouts), mushrooms and nori (seaweed) served with a poached egg. It’s accompanied by a small bowl of vinegar, which I was instructed to add chili oil to before pouring it on the noodles. While I probably should have gone a bit lighter on the vinegar I absolute loved this dish. It was a complex collection of textures of flavors that complemented each other while competing for my palate’s attention. It is not, however, a dish I’d recommend to unadventurous eaters.
A side order of fried rice had an even more complex flavor profile. The chef makes it with bacon, takana (pickled mustard greens), pickled ginger and a fried egg. I found the combination just a touch overpowering, but my wife loved it.
Our other side dish was also interesting but slightly disappointing. A plate of gyoza ($6) had some of the tastiest filling I’ve ever had in these dumplings. Sadly, they were a little overcooked.
Shoku Ramen-Ya is clearly taking the ramen house to a new level (at least by Las Vegas standards). If you’re already a ramen fan, you owe it to yourself to see what it’s doing. Beginners, however, may want to start with the basics — unless you like challenging your taste buds.
SHOKU RAMEN-YA, 470 East Windmill Lane, 897-0978. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net and follow him on Twitter @almancinivegas.