Dish: Tokyo Ramen
Place: Boom Noodle, Bellevue (also in Capitol Hill and University Village)
In the bowl: Chashu (braised pork butt), tamago (egg), menma (bamboo shoots), green onion, and a piece of nori (seaweed) in soy seasoned chicken-pork broth
Supporting cast/What to do: You can order fried garlic chips or fried shallots for an extra fifty cents, but I'd recommend this bowl as is. Just dive in. Any knowledgeable Japanese person will tell you that you should eat your ramen as quickly as possible to prevent the noodles from getting soggy and losing their texture. (Some would cite a seven-minute rule.)Noodling around: Tokyo ramen has been the reimagined name of shoyu ramen on Boom's menu, reflecting its region of popularity. Boom Noodle sells all of the "big four" varieties of ramen, from shoyu to tonkotsu (pork bone) to shio (salt) to miso, pulling out the fullest of flavors without using MSG. You'll also find other types of ramen there, including spicy lemon (yuzu) chicken and spicy pork.
As much as I've partaken in the tonkotsu craze that seems to be sweeping American cities that are discovering ramen, I ultimately prefer shoyu for its lightness--and as the best way to judge the quality of a restaurant's ramen. It allows me to focus on the noodles, the chashu, the broth, and the other elements of the soup.
Boom Noodle's ramen has really evolved over the years. The slightly wavy noodles are better than before, the chashu is a thickness I like and has decent fat content, and the broth is meaty without being heavy. I wish the egg was soft-cooked to the right runniness; then again, I haven't found such an egg at any of Seattle's "dedicated" ramen places, though Spring Hill's saimin and Revel's ramen get it right.
If you want more: It's always tempting to get ramen's satisfying sidekick, gyoza (pork or vegetable, $6.95), but as a healthier option, I recommend edamame puree ($4.95). Sweet potato crisps, baby cucumber, and Japanese eggplant come as vehicles to scoop up the delicious puree, spiced with citrusy yuzu pepper.
Be aware/beware: Happy hour gets you the Tokyo ramen at a discounted price of $6.95, which is quite a deal. The edamame drops to $3.75, and the gyoza to $4.75.
As the name implies, Boom is about noodles in general, going beyond ramen. There's pho, pad Thai, udon, yakisoba (egg noodles), and soba. In fact, for a vegetarian dish, the shiitake soba packs a lot of punch, pushed by the umami of the mushrooms. And the menu offers non-noodle dishes to explore as well.
Note: Boom Noodle is included in my round-up of Seattle-area Asian noodle restaurants as part of my cover story in the current IBUKI magazine (available at Japan-centric stores and restaurants).