I’ll never forget the first time I walked into Monta, the small ramen house on Spring Mountain Road that was my first experience with authentic Japanese ramen. I was blown away that such a simple, inexpensive noodle and broth dish could be so exquisite. From the broth itself to the paper-thin slices of pork that melted in my mouth, everything in my bowl was perfect.
During the past few years, a handful of other ramen houses have opened in the valley. Sadly, I’ve yet to come across one that treats the simple dish with the same respect they do at Monta. My latest disappointment came at Ramen Fukumimi on Eastern Avenue. It’s not that the food there is bad. If you’re looking for a filling dinner for under $10, you could do a lot worse. But after having the best, it’s hard to settle for something mediocre — which is what these guys are offering.
Fukumimi is a quaint little restaurant located in a strip mall. Decorated in light wood and geometric patterns, it features bench seating against one wall, with tables to accommodate about 18 people, and room for another five or six at a bar. It has a young, modern feel that makes it perfect for the numerous students who seem to congregate there. (Students, of course, tend to be experts in finding dining bargains — and this is most definitely a bargain.)
I have to admit, I found the menu a little confusing. In my experience, most ramen restaurants offer several types of broth. The most prominent are tonkotsu (pork bone), shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce) and miso. I’ve seen tonkotsu and shoyu combined, but don’t recall a lot of other mixing of broths. Here, however, they offer four types of tonkotsu ($7.50-$9.20), including hybrids such as tonkotsu/salt, tonkotsu/soy, tonkotsu/miso and spicy tonkotsu. There are also chicken ramen ($7.50), something called tori (salt and garlic oil, $7.50) and a spicy Szechuan-style broth called tantan men ($9). There are also a handful of appetizers ($2-$4) and assorted bowls of everything from kimchi ($3) to curry rice ($4-$6.50).
While I scratched my head a bit over the unfamiliar styles of ramen, I didn’t worry about it much. For all I know, mixing broths may be common in Japan. Or perhaps the chef is simply being creative. Either way, I’m always up for new things.
To start our meal, my wife and I took the advice of a couple sitting next to us and ordered karaage ($4), a plate of six small pieces of fried chicken. I wasn’t terribly impressed, however. While it was moist and tender, the seasoning was pretty bland. In fact, there wasn’t much to differentiate it from under-seasoned American fried chicken.
For my main course, I ordered the tonkotsu/miso ramen, while my wife had the chicken ramen. Both were huge portions, and neither of us could finish our order. But I found my wife’s broth to be a little on the bland side. The chicken, however, was pretty tasty.
My ramen was seasoned much better. In addition to the broth and the good noodles, the bowl was packed with corn, green onions, a boiled egg and a large slice of pork. Unfortunately, the egg was overcooked for my taste, while the cut of pork was large, fatty and thick. In a good ramen house, the pork should practically disintegrate in your mouth. This was a bit on the chewy side.
All of that said, my wife and I spent less than $25, including a couple of sodas each, and had more food than we could handle. Considering you can spend close to that in a fast food restaurant, I’d rather have Fukumimi’s healthier, much more original fare. Throw in the cool atmosphere and a pleasant staff, and it’s a nice little spot to grab a meal on the east side. If you want world-class ramen, however, cross town to Monta.
RAMEN FUKUMIMI, 4860 S. Eastern Ave., 631-2934. Read more about the Las Vegas dining scene on Al Mancini’s blog, www.almancini.net.