Bring-Your-Own-Bowl: Tasting Ramen With Ramen in Common
Photo by Mai Pham "Koteri" ramen by chef Gabe Medina of Soma Sushi.
When Carl Rosa started the Ramen in Common Facebook group in April 2013, Houston was just in the fledgling stages of the ramen craze. Since then, we've seen several new ramen restaurants open. The group has grown its membership to 800-plus, and has a huge voice on the ramen scene.
The group's mantra, as stated on its landing page, is this: "Ramen is considered 'Serious Business' for those who truly enjoy it. In Houston, we will (as a group) sample every bowl of ramen available, learn about the finer aspects of ramen while giving our best recommendations for all of Houston."
Members post pictures of ramen bowls they've tasted around Houston and in other cities. Critiques are often posted along with photos, including specifics about temperature, taste, toppings, noodles, etc. And ramen restaurants seem to love it, opening their doors for exclusive Ramen in Common tastings, just so they can get feedback.
I attended one of these focused tastings this past Thursday at Soma Sushi. Chef Gabe Medina, who has been experimenting with ramen recipes for several years (read my coverage on those experiments, here) currently serves anywhere from six to seven different types of ramen daily. But he's still working on new recipes, trying new things, looking for ways to bring new offerings to the table. This is where Ramen in Common comes in.
Photo by Mai Pham Chefs Pascal Choi and Gabe Medina of Soma Sushi.
He's been working with Rosa to offer small tastings to Ramen in Common members as sort of a focus-group type event. The event that I attended, called Bring-Your-Own-Bowl, was intimate, fun and interactive. For $30 per person, 12 attendees, seated in groups of six in the private dining room upstairs, were treated to a four-course meal. Attendees were asked to bring two medium sized bowls per person for the event, which would include two tastings of Medina's newest, not-yet-offered-to-the-public ramen creations.
Rosa and Medina did some very brief introductions to kick off the event, and soon, we were sampling our first course. My table had a great time, bonding immediately over shared love of food and ramen. We talked about our favorite places to eat around town, our various ramen experiences across the city, and shared general reactions and opinions on the dishes presented to us.
The first, a watermelon yuzu snapper ceviche, was a refreshing summertime dish. A collaborative effort by the Soma team (including sushi chef Pascal Choi) the colors and plating were just lovely, with bright pops of red from the watermelon, and delicate fennel crisps that jutted upright, and bright green, house-grown nasturtium as garnish. I ate the dish with my eyes before scooping up bites of with my chopsticks, and though I would have liked for a more yuzu in the dish, it was an auspicious way to start the evening.
Photo by Mai Pham Watermelon yuzu snapper ceviche.
Soon afterward, the first of the ramen courses, a koteri ramen, was served. Medina described the broth before serving it, saying that it was a tonkotsu-based broth that was intentionally fatty. In fact, he said that part of the method for making it was to "slam pork fat into the broth," so that you'd see little droplets of fat floating on the surface of the broth.
The aroma of the koteri was decidedly pork-y in a comforting, I-want-to-devour-this-now sort of way. The broth was indeed rich and unctuous, but didn't leave a greasy mouthfeel. It was full of flavor and had a strong salt element, something you want in a good ramen.
Medina had used a thinner noodle for this ramen. It was a pale cream color and cooked slightly al dente, with a nice bite in each noodle strand. And the toppings, for me, where just right: A crisped, thin round of sliced rolled pork, half of a perfectly cooked egg (the yolk was still soft, but not runny), wakame, shiitake, wood ear and green onion.
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