Monday, December 19, 2016

The Best Ramen Bowls in LA #4: Fujin Ramen

Looking at the map from Discover LA's "The Best Ramen Bowls in LA", I remember being surprised at the two ramen shops in East LA.  Most of the stores that I had been to, or enjoyed were all in West LA, if not down south.  Nonetheless, as with all my other visits, I had to figure out an excuse or at least a reason to be so far east.  As it happened, I was visiting friends at the Claremont Colleges and decided to go out for dinner.  I decided that we should check out Fujin Ramen, in West Covina.

I was actually looking forward to this ramen bowl as it was unique in that it was one of a few miso (fermented soy-bean paste ramen bowls.  Most ramen stores in LA feature tonkotsu (pork bone) or shoyu (soy-sauce) or just shio (salt & oil) based broths.  Miso ramen is usually tonkotsu mixed with the miso paste to give a more savory flavor to the broth.  While tonkotsu broths are usually quite creamy and filling, miso broths are savory and smooth. Miso ramen is my favorite and it's actually quite difficult to find good miso ramen outside of Japan.  Nonetheless, I had high hopes for this restaurant.

The store was actually quite large, bigger than I expected.  Most of the ramen joints in LA are small, and tight; probably only fit 15-20 people at most.  This restaurant could easily fit 35-40.  Ambiance aside, the food looked good and they had quite a bit of options.  As always, I order what the writer of the article recommends, with minor adjustments of course.  I ordered the Fujin Ramen with miso, and requested the "medium wavy" noodles to be firm.  I had planned to order my bowl just as the writer did in the article, but unfortunately, by the time I visited, they no longer offered the "spicy chopped garlic", "kimchi chives" or special "miso paste.  The bowl did however come with chashu, half a soft boiled egg as well as fresh garlic, bamboo, corn and wood ear mushrooms

When the bowl came, my heart sank a little.  The presentation was not very appealing.  Because I had also requested the kotteiri, which is extra oil, there was a visible sheen to the broth.  Mainly, the bowl looked like the elements were just frivolously placed into it, and not carefully allocated as if to highlight the different ingredients.  While presentation is not a big factor when it comes to my reviews, it does set a tone for how the bowl is then consumed.  

The bowl did taste very good though.  The broth was amazing.  You could taste the melding of flavors between the savory miso paste and the sweet richness of the tonkotsu.  The broth wasn't as creamy as typical tonkotsu, but there was a definite mellowing deepness to it.  Because I added raw garlic, there was a slight kick to the broth.  The medium wavy noodles were really filling and satisfying, though not as firm as I'd prefer.  The wood ear mushrooms provided a nice contrast in texture with the crunch.  The bamboo tasted a bit processed, but was also crunchy.  The chashu was surprising in that it was quite thin, but it was still bursting with flavor.  The corn was canned, so it had a bit of sweetness, but wasn't too special.  

Overall, I think it was one of the weaker bowls of ramen I've had.  The presentation was really disappointing and all the standalone ingredients didn't seem to combine together very well.  The saving grace was the miso broth.  Granted, I am slightly biased towards miso, but it the broth was quite good.  Ultimately, I probably won't come out to West Covina for this bowl of ramen.  It just doesn't seem to be on the same level as any of the previous ramen places I've been to.