By Clare Myers
In all my years in college, I have never eaten instant ramen. To be honest, just thinking about those little Styrofoam cups of dried noodles and those little silver packets of concentrated sodium laced with MSG makes me a little queasy. And what exactly does “chicken flavor” mean anyway?
I had managed to avoid all the horrible things I associated with ramen in my first three years in Irving, and I saw no reason to change that. It was not until a friend recommended Tanoshii Ramen Bar that my eyes were opened to the glorious potential of the much-maligned noodle.
In Japan, ramen is a street food. It has been compared to the fast-food burger in the U.S. But in recent years, ramen dishes with a spin have exploded in popularity, with foodies and hipsters across the country embracing the trend. Cooked ramen’s vast superiority over its instant counterpart provides the chef with a neutral base to create diverse dishes. Last year, Dallas jumped on the ramen bandwagon when Tanoshii came to Deep Ellum.
Usually I would shake my head at bandwagoners, but this ramen bar earns a nod of approval.
The restaurant itself is sleek and modern, with a clean line of intimate tables and a generous bar area. It is a chic space befitting the trendy menu.
In addition to an extensive adult beverage menu, including an impressive array of sake, Tanoshii offers dumplings ($7) and yakitori ($6-9), as well as a number of small plates, such as edamame ($5) and “Tofu Caprese” ($6), which is exactly what it sounds like. A friend and I were intrigued by the section of the menu titled “Steamed Buns,” which included braised shiitake mushroom and soft shell crab varieties. But we had come for the ramen. Tanoshii has a decent selection of both “Street Ramen” with broth ($10-21), and “Soupless Ramen” ($10-15). Customers can add extra toppings such as bamboo shoots (+$1) or fried tofu (+$2) to either variety or substitute brown rice noodles for regular noodles for an extra $2 to make the meal gluten-free.
I chose the “Spicy Miso” ($12), one of the most popular bowls. The warm, creamy tonkotsu and miso soup had so much going for it that the ramen itself was an afterthought. The broth was almost too rich, and the miso grilled corn, roasted sesame, sprouts and scallions provided welcome texture. I was a bit disappointed by the pork belly, which did not hold its own in the dish. The presence of nitamago, or soft-boiled egg, somewhat compensated for this shortcoming. The bowl had a good amount of heat already, but on the waitress’ recommendation, I added chili paste from the small bowl on the table to up the ante. The noodles were tasty, but having been ramen-free for years, I am not the best judge of their quality. As a newbie, though, my first foray into home cooked ramen was delicious.
A friend opted for the “Lemongrass Chicken & Dumplings” ($13), which consisted of a clear broth topped with shrimp and pork wontons, shiitake mushrooms, chicken and shallots. The bowl had a much lighter flavor, but was still quite a substantial dish. She ranked the dumplings among the best she had had, and having a bit more experience with ramen, she pronounced the noodles “delicious.”
Make no mistake, though, this version of ramen is no instant Cup Noodles. These are not dried, but rather cooked to a slightly chewy texture that is a bit too slick to be called “al dente.” I was impressed by the sophistication of a dish I had long considered the last resort of college students everywhere.
Almost as impressive as this ramen revolution was the service at Tanoshii. Despite the fact that we came in just a few minutes before the small restaurant closed its kitchen, the staff was friendly, attentive and efficient. Our bowls arrived quickly (perhaps because we were some of the last customers in the place), but we were never rushed. Overall, it was a pleasant experience.
Writing this, I realize that in my college experience, I still have managed to avoid instant ramen. After a trip to Tanoshii, I doubt that will change. Tanoshii calls it “the evolution of ramen,” and I see no reason to regress.
Nearest DART station: Baylor Medical Center Station
Distance from UD: 10.8 miles
How to get there from UD: Take the Orange Line toward Parker Road or LBJ/Central for 1 stop. Get off at Bachman Station and transfer to the Green Line toward Buckner for 11 stops. Get off at Baylor Station, walk south for 0.2 miles on Malcolm X Boulevard and turn right onto Commerce street. Tanoshii will be 0.1 miles away.