Ahh, soup season. If you ask me, it's the most wonderful time of the year, and if you prod a little further, you'll know I relish the opportunity to dive headfirst into a hearty bowl of harissa, khao soi, rasam or bún bò Huế when temperatures dip below the shiver point of 60 degrees. In recent weeks, I've been obsessed with Ramen Takagi in Oviedo. It's run by Yoko Takagi and her chef husband, Gabriel Leal, whose sole aim is to offer ramen verisimilitude, or perhaps more accurately, ramen that visitors from Japan would endorse.
It's one of the criteria by which the pair judge their ramens and so far, reaction has been positive. "A woman from Kyushu said our tonkotsu was just like home," Yoko tells me. Kyushu, and the city of Fukuoka in particular, is the birthplace of tonkotsu ramen and its creamy paitan base. At Ramen Takagi, pork bones and trotters are boiled down for about 20 hours to form the rich, umami-drenched foundation of the tonkotsu ($13) before being embellished with some delectably decorative components: house-braised pork belly (chashu), wood ear mushrooms (kikurage), marinated soft-boiled egg (ajitamago), pickled ginger and scallions. Squigglers from Sun Noodle are used for the tonkotsu, just as they are for the spicy miso ramen ($13), my soup of choice for three reasons: the broth, which blends a five-hour chintan chicken broth with the 20-hour paitan; the very balanced level of heat (chili paste and ichimi togarashi are used); and the soup's wholly seductive trappings. Chashu and minced pork make handsome additions, sure, but bean sprouts, corn, scallions and bok choy lend real slurp appeal. Its warming qualities go over just as well in 58-degree Oviedo as I imagine it would in wintry Hokkaido.
- Photo by Rob Bartlett
Shio ramen ($12), another staple on that snowy isle, is done here with the sort of refined simplicity that a shio ramen deserves. The clear chicken broth is the star, while the salt-based tare allows for a relatively unadulterated and pure ramen experience. The tare (a concentrated flavoring agent) is crafted from sugar, soy, mirin and untreated sea salt. Yoko emphasizes the importance of using a quality salt for shio ramen, then points out that she uses thinner noodles from Myojo (not Sun) for both the shio as well as the shoyu ramen ($12), a soup made with a clear chicken broth tinged brown with a soy base. The tangy smack of the shoyu is matched by the soft crunch of bamboo shoots and the delicate crisp of nori strips. Like the shio ramen, the shoyu is beautified by chashu, ajitamago, scallions and spinach. A brothless mazesoba ($11) sprinkled with negi mix comprised of fried scallions, yellow onion and garlic is also offered. Just make sure you mix all the ingredients (chashu, mince pork, egg, scallions, nori and negi mix) well before eating.
And don't overlook the karaage ($7) or onigiri. The triangles of rice stuffed with everything from tuna mayo ($2.50) to salted plum ($2.50) are very takeout-friendly. BTW: The restaurant isn't seating at 100 percent capacity, which is nice to see. There are four seats at the sushi bar, and table seating is limited to 12 guests. Doesn't seem to be hurting business any. "We're starting to get so busy!" Yoko says, and I can tell this is just the beginning: When the pandemic ends, Ramen Takagi will be inundated and raking it in. I mean, they are sitting on a liquid gold mine, after all.