Thoughts upon eating edamame at Ramen House: If you’re supposed to get at these delicious little underripe-soybean snacks by popping the beans out of the inedible pod, what’s the point in seasoning the outside of the pod?
A taste of Ramen House’s amazing spicy garlic edamame ($5.50) explains it all for us. Grab a pod and, in traditional fashion, pull it through your teeth so the little white beans pop out in your mouth, there to be seasoned by the mix of salt, garlic, red pepper, and oil that comes off the pod in the process. Chew, swallow, repeat, and before you know it, the bowl is empty and you still want more.
And that’s not all! According to the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, edamame are rich in the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been shown to cause weight loss and lower blood sugar. Okay, in animal studies, but for a dish as good as Ramen House’s version, I’m willing to be a human test subject.
Yes, they are that good, and that was just a preview of our dinner at Ramen House. Everything we ate was not just delicious but memorable. These folks do ramen right. With the recent loss of Mirin in Clifton and its New Albany branch, and before that the disappearance of Lydia House with its worthy ramen, a new spot that does ramen right is to be cherished.
Even something as simple as Ramen House’s hot green tea ($2) is extraordinary, clear, pale yet strong, with a clean herbal scent and deep flavor that somehow speaks of the sea. It comes in a pretty white earthenware pot with large stoneware mugs.
The dining room is more plain than fancy, a dark box at the back end of Mid City Mall that previously housed Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill, and in years past, the beloved City Cafe. The new owners have brightened it up with Japanese graphics and tchotchkes, including about 100 assorted tiny Funko Pop figures on a rail around the upper reaches of the room.
The menu is centered on ramen, of course, but there’s also a selection of donburi rice bowls, many expanding the bill of fare’s range to Korea with bulgogi (grilled beef or chicken) and bibimbap (egg-topped veggie rice bowl).
Pricing is fair, with nine ramen choices ranging in price from $10.50 (for either of the vegetarian options, Japanese curry or veggie ramen) to $14 (for super-spicy “Hell” ramen). Ramen comes with your choice of cha siu roast pork or chicken, with about a dozen add-ins available for a modest surcharge.
Eleven donburi (rice bowl) entrees are almost all $9 (for all the bulgogi and cha siu bowls), with a couple of vegetarian rice bowls for $7 or $8. An unagi (eel) bowl tops the price range at $12.
A dozen appetizers are $3.50 (for plain edamame) to $8.50 (for rose gyoza, handmade pork dumplings shaped as pretty pink roses); seven variations on tiny taco-look buns, served in pairs, are all $7.
In addition to that excellent green tea, the beverages list includes Japanese soft drinks, four Japanese beers, and a selection of 14 sakes ranging from $5 (for a couple of flavored sakes in cans) to $60 (for a big bottle of Shirakabegura Junmai Dalginjo, a serious sake indeed).
Unagi (eel) buns ($7) were another outstanding appetizer, little pieces of edible art, everything perfect. Japanese-style hirata buns were made just right, steamed soft as a a cloud inside and finished on a grill to make the skins crisp and brown. They were folded like tacos around a few succulent fatty strips of broiled eel dressed with thin strips of pickled daikon and carrot and the traditional thick brown sweet sauce.
Shio ramen ($12.50), pictured at the top of the page, was built on a rich, clear chicken broth, rich with umami flavor, loaded with ramen wheat noodles cooked just right, tender but not mushy. On one side perched half of a perfectly made soft-boiled egg; on the other side sat about a half-dozen slices of cha siu pork, roasted, then grilled, darkly crisp on the edges, succulent and fatty inside. Two sheets of black nori seaweed stuck in the side added a distinct scent of the sea; a pile of corn niblets, a bunch of fresh bamboo shoots and a garnish of snipped green onions contributed more subtle and complex flavors.
Japanese curry ramen ($10.50) takes a different approach to the ramen standard, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable side trip. A hearty option for a winter evening, it was thick and brown like a stew, filled with perfect ramen noodles and scented with the aromatic but mild Japanese take on curry, and loaded with onions and tender cubes of potato and carrot.
Ramen House is open for dinner only; it opens at 5 p,m. Mondays through Saturdays. Our delicious dinner for two came to a thrifty $39.75, plus a $10 tip for our server, Devin.
1250 Bardstown Road, Suite 17A
Mid City Mall
Robin Garr’s rating: 91 points.
Noise level: Every table was filled after a movie ended at Baxter Avenue theaters next door, but the sound level was moderate. (Average sound was 78dB, on the high end of the conversational range.)
Accessibility: The restaurant appears fully accessible to wheelchair users.