The Ramen doesn't look like a ramen joint. It's the one facet of this downtown slurper I can't seem to get past, though considering I've been to the Ramen three times, I suppose I'm doing a pretty decent job of it. Still, the all-too-present vestiges of the Philly Connection don't exactly befit the minimalist, woodsy and Marie Kondo-tidy ramen-ya aesthetic I was expecting. Rather, chef-owner Suichi Tanida chooses to showcase Japanese visual appeal through food, so set aside the restaurant's outward (and inward) appearance; turn a blind eye to its fast-casual, take-a-number aspect; and open them when steamy red bowls of tonkotsu, shoyu and miso ramen are set before you. Then breathe it all in.
Tanida, the longtime chef at Mitsukoshi Restaurant at Epcot, says he sticks to a traditional preparation for his broths – that they're lighter and not as rich and thick as some of the higher-viscosity "Americanized ramens" around town. That said, Tanida isn't boiling pork bones down for 12 hours either – he uses a pork broth concentrate for his tonkotsu ramen ($11.95), which snobs will rightfully scoff at. But that doesn't mean it wasn't luxuriant.
It was quite gratifying, in fact, with ajitsuke tamago (marinated soft-boiled egg), four slices of luscious chashu (pork belly), kikurage (wood ear mushroom) slivers, beni shoga (red pickled ginger) and menma (fermented bamboo shoots). The noodles had a nice chew to them, too, and after just a few slurps, my dining comrade and I couldn't help but nod contentedly.
A square of nori comes propped up inside the bowl, but don't wait too long to eat it. No one likes soggy seaweed. Some don't like nori at all, crisp or soggy, in which case the nori-free chashu ramen ($12.50) should be considered. It's pretty much the same as the tonkotsu but with slices of nibuta (pork shoulder) accompanying the chashu. I couldn't find any fault with soy-sauce-based shoyu ramen ($10.50), not that I was looking for one, but I could with the miso ramen ($11.95). It just wasn't hearty enough. Maybe it was the lean chicken breast meat; maybe the chicken needed to be teriyakied; maybe the broth needed a pat of butter as is the norm in wintry Hokkaido. No matter; soup toppings of corn, spinach, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and ito-togorashi (fine chili strands) served to paint a pretty picture of this bowl. I sampled the miso-based tofu ramen ($11.95) on another occasion, and the broth was a vegan flavor bomb, though not as umami-intense as Kabooki Sushi's vegan "umamen." I tossed in some chopped garlic and raw onion for an added boost. I was, however, bowled over by the chicken tatsuta donburi ($8.95). The relatively simple dish of chicken marinated in soy, sake, ginger and garlic, then coated in potato starch, fried and laid atop a bowl of rice, is hardly fancy; it's just done well and damn if I'm not craving it as I type these words. Even takoyaki ($3.75 for 3; $7 for 6) – æbleskiver's smaller, octopus-filled cousins – impressed with a crispy outer layer enveloping a creamy center. Doroyaki ($4.95) – pancakes' smaller, bean-filled cousins – made a serviceable finale.
And don't worry about cleaning up. Ever-vigilant servers are quick to pick up plates and clean tables – a perk downtowners surely didn't experience at the Philly Connection. For many, their hero dreams of sushi can now be pondered over a good bowl of ramen.