Cold rainy days in Seattle are as common as the Mariners losing. What goes better with a cold rainy day then a warm bowl of soup. More specifically, a rich pork based broth that contains a decent amount of chili oil, egg, vegetables and noodles. The type of soup that has a dark layer of broth and a decent layer of rich pork fat floating on the topI am speaking of course, of Ramen.
Good ramen, is hard to come by. Some Chefs like David Chang have said that Ramen is dead. Claiming that the adulteration of the product has made it something it never should be. As a cook, there was the occasional make shift family meal Ramen. Maybe we had some chicken stock lying around and braised pork, or maybe someone actually brought in real pork bones and made the stock from scratch. They were never bad renditions, but they never had the depth, or love that went into traditional Ramen. I personally never felt qualified to make a product that really required a lot more than just pork bones thrown in water. There is a proper ritual in making ramen broth, a set of traditions passed down in order to make good Ramen. How can I pretend to know. Sure, I could read a book, sure I could watch a video. I just don’t think it would cover every nuance there is and I don’t think highly enough of myself to believe I could make amazing broth just like that.
I was lucky enough to stumble upon a hidden gem called Ooink (Oh….dear…I just used some cliche term). It may not be part of any fancy list of top Ramen spots, or have any accolades yet. However, this spot knows how to make a bowl of liquid gold. It does have a strange location. It is awkwardly placed at the top of a flight of stairs by a QFC. This location can be easily missed if you don’t know it exists.
Entering the restaurant you are met with the classic “Irasshaimase” or “Welcome, come in”. Not only from the people serving, but also from the smell of pork broth wafting in the air. It to is quietly saying “welcome”. The place only has 30 seats at most. All of which are crammed together. My friend and I decided to grab a seat by the window on the high stools. After being seated the Chef was quick to stop by and explain the menu to us.
The menu is short, but it has all the important options. It starts with the classic Shoyu and Spicy Ramen and moves into the Kotteri Ramen. The first two Ramen options are the straight forward broth versions. Even when the Chef explained the Shoyu Ramen, he got very passionate about the pure flavor of the broth and how it would best showcase the broth. Whereas, the Koterri Ramen was cooked with fattier portions of pork. This leads to a creamier broth but masks some of the broths complexities.
A quick Side note about Koterri Ramen:
Koterri Ramen Literally means “Rich/Thick”. It is characterized by a fattier broth. It is layered with flavors of pork belly, fatty chicken and so on. Each layer adds more richness of both flavor and fat. If you want to see how it is done, I found this great step by step from someone on reddit (yes…I frequent reddit). This guy or gal did a great job showing how to make Koterri Ramen. It is a complex process and really requires each layer. Don’t skimp! Make sure you go through it all, it is worth it.
End side note
Nevertheless, my friend and I ordered the two spicy options of Ramen. I dared to get a 3 out of 4 spicy rating. At this point, the Chef looked me over and felt the need to warn me that 3 stars had Thai chilies in it as well as the normal chili oil. Of course, instead of detracting me from the path of fire I had just started down, it pushed me onward.
When the bowl came out, the sight of the perfectly cooked egg alone caused my tongue to shudder. The pool of chili oil made my broth look like the next BP oil spill. I impatiently pushed my spoon passed the noodles to get my first taste of the broth. As I pressed the hot unctuous liquid on my lips my tongue was instantly satisfied. The fatty pork, and spice from the chilies went off like fire works. Blowing my taste buds to smithereens. There was a depth and richness that is hard to explain. The Thai chilies added a citrus like spice. It was bright, and spicy. The experience was a combination of fatty layers of chili and pork fat, rich broth, soy, and clearly love that created one of the better broths I have had in the last few months! (and I frequent Kizuki, mostly out of convenience). I don’t think I have been to enough ramen places to claim Ooink as the best ramen place in Seattle. However, it was the best experience I have had so far in Seattle.
Let’s go beyond the broth. Every topping in the bowl, whether it was the egg, crispy garlic or bamboo shoots added rather than detracted to the flavor of the dish. If you look at the picture below, you can see the egg oozing perfectly over the broth. It is one of my favorite parts of ramen. To top it all off, my first slurp of noodle had unbeatable texture. Not raw, but not too soft, what more can you ask for? When I get perfectly cooked noodles, I am border line in love. It is a rare feat. Most places are so busy, it is a crap shoot. Some days you get soft and textureless noodles. Other days, you get the perfect bite. I would have to visit this place again to confirm where it lies on the noodle meter. I try not to be a noodle snob…but when you worked for an Italian place for 2 years…it is in your blood(Yes, I know Chinese invented noodles, but there are less fine dining Chinese places 🙁 )
Spicy Kotteri Ramen
There was one problem I had with this meal. It was awful, I was so surprised on how bad it made me feel. The worst part of the experience, was slurping my final slurp of broth. I can’t say I have been emotionally sad a lot after eating. However, I was border line depressed at the bottom of the bowl, because I knew I had no more Ramen left. There was a small portion of my mind that wanted to order another bowl. Ooink stays true to the pig. It treats the concept of good broth, and solid technique with respect. It isn’t trying to break boundaries or challenge norms. It just makes really good f******* food. Honestly, I dig that more than I dig overly initiative food. If you have 12 bucks to spare, you will not be disappointed.
This was a rare meal. Mostly because, unlike Kizuki, there was the whole experience. There was something about the Chef coming and sharing his passion with us. Maybe it just primed my brain and thus fooled me. However, eating at any restaurant is an experience. It isn’t just the food. If you have an overall positive experience, it creates a deeper connection. You don’t just remember the meal, you also remember how you were treated, the passion of those cooking and so on. When all of that combines, it creates an artificial connection, or maybe a real one. Your mind continues with it. I am not sure, maybe the ramen really wasn’t great. My mind tells me it was and at the end of the day, that is what is important.
As always, if you have a place you want to recommend, I really enjoy finding new places and I am always searching for the next best bite! Maybe you can join me.