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There’s a new ramen master in town.
Tokyo-based Ramen Nagi’s first U.S. location has landed in Palo Alto, bringing “king” ramen bowls to Silicon Valley. We got a sneak peek during a media preview, when chef Satoshi Ikuta — in town for the restaurant’s launch — served his ramen to American diners for the first time. Ikuta founded Ramen Nagi in 2004, and has since opened 40 restaurants across Asia.
What sets Ramen Nagi apart is that diners can customize the offerings, which include four standards, as well as weekly specials ($13-$14). All the ramens here are dubbed King Ramen, a moniker indicating ramen’s star status. Noodles, thick and thin, are made daily with water purified in-house. Those fresh noodles cook in a flash — 20 to 30 seconds is all it takes — but the big stock pots of tonkotsu, a pork-based broth, simmer for more than 20 hours.
THE VIBE: Nagi means calm and tranquil in Japanese, and the dining room has a certain zen to it. Ikuta has his hand in everything from Nagi’s food to decor. Pops of red highlight the slabs of Japanese black cedar on the walls, and Japanese music fills the room. Staff are clad in T-shirts, bandanas and aprons, all designed by Ikuta and emblazoned with the words “Universal Noodle Creators.”
FOOD: Savory and comforting, the Original King bowl holds thin noodles, tree mushrooms, tender chasu pork loin, crunchy green onion and the secret-recipe Nagi Fire Sauce. We weren’t able to fully customize our bowls at the preview, but diners get an omotenashi — which means hospitality in Japanese — order sheet to fill out and express preferences for light, normal or heavy strength of flavor (salt), for example, and extra firm or soft noodles. The Nagi Fire Sauce option goes up to 10; we tried “1 Spicy,” which was slightly sweet with a pleasant kick.
The robust, earthy Black King was our favorite bowl. A ground pork, black miso and blackened garlic ball topped the squid ink-infused broth. We happily slurped up fiery Red King, too, with its red chile oil-tinged broth, fatty pork belly and salty red miso and pork ball. (Interestingly, the basil, olive oil and Parmesan-laced Green King smelled and tasted more like pesto pasta, than a ramen.)
It’s early days, of course, but Nagi’s Limited King vegetarian ramen still needs a little work. The hash brown patties, standing in for pork, got quite soggy. (Also: The tissue boxes at each table may have been just a preview thing, but we’d rather use actual napkins.)
DON’T MISS: The Snack Gyoza, one of many side dishes ($5-$8) offered, is a show stopper. Fourteen baby dumplings, filled with juicy pork and cabbage, fanned out in a pinwheel and covered by a thin fried lattice, are addictive. These tiny Japanese poppers are as light and delicate as lace.
COMING SOON: Once Ramen Nagi gets its liquor license, look for cocktails, sake and beer. Desserts are in the works, too.
DETAILS: Nagi opens for its first dinner service from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on June 25. Starting June 26, it will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily at 541 Bryant Street, Palo Alto; www.ramennagiusa.com.
First Look: Tokyo’s Ramen Nagi opens in Palo Alto