By Alexa Solis
In the darkened businesses that line West Street sits a small, and almost entirely unmarked ramen shop. Gaman Ramen,new to the area since late 2014, has a certain sort of charm about it. Everything from the decor, to the signage, to the sparse but specialized menu echoes the sort of thing an American would hope to find in Japan, but westernized just enough to feel at home.
The sparse interior of Gaman Ramen is pleasing and, surprisingly, not as overbearingly trendy as one might expect. With hip ramen shops being the treat du jour in this day and age, Gaman Ramen approaches the line of being too modish. However, unfussy staff and the reasonable pricing keeps the restaurant grounded. The only aspect of the restaurant that might threaten that is the music. With unidentifiable house music buzzing through the speakers, it toes the line between hip appeal and ridiculousness.
Thankfully, though the ramen shop may have an upper-crust feel, it does not carry the enormous price tag that often follows the restaurant’s degree of minimalism. Not only are the prices affordable, even for a measly college student, but the food is also phenomenal. While there is little to choose from, the restaurant proudly touts its high quality ingredients.
In addition to five different appetizers, the restaurant offers three different kinds of ramen – Tonkatsu, Shio and Miso. Tonkatsu ramen is a rich, pork-based broth served with slices of pork in addition to noodles, some sprouts and nori seaweed. According to my companion, the Tonkatsu was rich and flavorful. In short, it is everything a bowl of ramen that doesn’t come out of a Styrofoam cup is supposed to be.
The restaurant also offers shio ramen for those inclined towards a poultry-based soup. Shio consists of a salt-based broth and is traditionally served with chicken in addition to the standard vegetables and noodles, is one of the most traditional forms of the Japanese soup. Gaman’s version of shio ramen is served with duck, which is fattier than chicken and has a slightly gamier taste. The miso ramen was complex in its flavors and though the broth was fairly salty, the vegetables and nori managed to balance the richness of its base well.
However, the types of ramen served do not come with many of the traditional toppings. This is a serious detractor from the restaurant since toppings like a soft-boiled egg and mushrooms are considered an essential part of the ramen experience. Charging extra for things that are usually standard is a bit unusual, though the menu does feature a little sheet explaining why the extras are considered as such (the restaurant points to the high quality of ingredients).
While the quality of the ingredients is high, charging extra for toppings essential to the dish seems a bit unnecessary. Though there are some “extra” options like extra meat or vegetables, which are perfectly justifiable in their additional charge, it seems a bit much to charge for so many toppings, notably soft-boiled eggs which are essential to the traditional ramen. Because of this, the price of a bowl of ramen can fluctuate anywhere from $11 to $30. If $30 seems steep for a bowl of soup, it’s because it is. That being said, it is unlikely that every single add-on is necessary for the individual customer, and the bowl of ramen will remain a reasonable price.
Overall, the restaurant is a pleasant place to go with a couple of friends, especially if one is looking to venture from the paltry bowl of instant noodles college kids have subsisted on for as long as anyone can remember.
Alexa Solis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @thealexasolis