Dish: Special Saimin
Place: Spring Hill, West Seattle
In the bowl: Per the menu: “smoked pork belly, six-minute egg, pork & ham broth, fish cake, scallion”–and also gai choy (pickled mustard greens) and nori (dried seaweed sheets).
Supporting cast: A small bowl of spicy chili oil.
What to do: To add or not to add chili oil: that is the (only) question.
Noodling around: If you’ve been following along, you’ve noticed I’ve yet to write about ramen. It’s not an oversight. I’ve simply been doing a side project on the Japanese dish, a sort of quest for the best.
To transition into ramen, I wanted something ramenesque, and saimin was the answer. It’s not really fair to compare saimin to ramen, as saimin is Hawaiian and has lots of Asian influences: Chinese, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese. Truth be told, I was hesitant to have saimin, as it generally has a lighter broth that’s not as rich (to me) as ramen.
But that’s not the case at Spring Hill. The special saimin showcases a complex broth that Chef Mark Fuller cooks for two days. Smoked pig heads and roasted pork bones contribute meaty depth. Kombu adds dashi-like quality while dried shiitakes add earthiness. The broth also contains soy sauce, rice vinegar, black pepper, scallions and daikon. Some soups bore me. This one had me enthralled right to the bottom of the bowl. Each taste was like a globe in my spoon. (If you notice the Gastrolust logo, you know I like that!)
I love the smokiness and fattiness of the pork belly. I always laugh at the colorful playfulness of kamaboko (fish cakes). The gorgeous egg is perfectly executed with the yolk running just right. Perhaps the best element is the pickled mustard greens, which impart a welcomed hint of sourness to the whole affair.
If there’s one thing with which I’d find a little fault, it’s the noodles. I like that they’re house-made, with flour, water, egg, and lye water. I also like the flavor and the waviness. But the noodles are a little too soft and sticky, clumping together and therefore undercooked in spots. Also note that these are short noodles, and not the long, slurping type that you typically find in saimin.
But, hey, this is Spring Hill’s version of the dish. And in my quest to find the top ramen in Seattle, I think it will be challenging for anyone to match the quality of this saimin. If they get those noodles right, it’s a clear contender for one of the most perfect bowls of soup noodles in the city.
If you want more: Spring Hill isn’t an Asian restaurant, so there aren’t dumplings or gyoza to go on the side. So I say focus solely on the soup. Then, afterward, maybe try a popover with jam and nutella ($4) or some seductive apple beignets with vanilla sauce ($7) if you’re still hungry and can handle a radical shift in flavor profile.
Be aware/beware: Note that the saimin is available only on the brunch menu, so you’ll need to go on the weekend to try it. This is Spring Hill, so expect an upscale experience. You’ll find other versions of saimin around town, and they’ll look very different than this, featuring SPAM, linguica, char siu, and even barbecued chicken. They may be more “authentic,” but Spring Hill’s saimin is, indeed, special.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on May 3, 2011.