This post is admittedly a bit unorthodox. I’m a big fan of Dough Zone, featuring the Chinese restaurant in a number of my “best of” lists. Dough Zone’s sister restaurant Ramen Bushi-Do opened earlier this year, recently inviting me in to sample some of their ramen. I enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at Bushi-Do’s operation. They make all their own noodles (fresh, never frozen) as well as an impressive number of sauces (like mussel salt, sardine salt, and three types of seafood soy sauce for preferred flavor and to avoid the use of MSG) for their broths.
Here is an adaptation of the feedback I provided afterward. Hopefully this will give you some insight into the effort Ramen Bushi-Do expends in making their product, and the challenges they face in marketing it.
(And here’s my current list of recommended ramen restaurants in the Seattle area, originally published 9/15/16 at Eater Seattle.)
I enjoyed and appreciated chef Nancy Xia’s dedication to her craft, as evidenced by her hard work, creativity, earnestness, and modesty. As a writer and just a general ramen fan, it was interesting for me to learn about the effort that goes into making the noodles, the broth, the flavorings, the toppings, etc. Similarly, in Japan, I’ve met chefs who’ve taught me what makes their ramen special—though generally that involves fewer areas of specialization. (For example, one guy who works solo in his ramen restaurant—not even any servers!—and comes in early to use a bamboo pole to shape his noodles that go in niboshi broth.)
In the dining room, I see that hard work pay off in terms of pretty presentation (colors, etc.), care and quality (good ingredients, and labor-intensiveness such as fine-chopping all those green onions in the shoyu ramen), nice touches like heating the tsukemen broth, etc. Ultimately, though, I wonder how important some of these aspects will be for diners. I know that miso broth is often made from a combination of different types of miso. Will a diner be impressed to know there are six types? Will a diner continually come back based upon knowledge that all those sauces are homemade? Is it worth the extra labor/equipment to heat the tsukemen broth? (I’ve never seen that in Japan, and personally don’t think it’s necessary. A diner should eat the noodles quickly enough that the broth stays warm, and then the server can add hot broth to heat it up again for drinking.) These will be interesting marketing considerations for the restaurant!
More important, I wonder whether it’s worth framing Bushi-Do as a “healthy ramen” restaurant. And whether diners actually care about healthy ramen. Is there enough of a market for this?
Thinking about the three components:
- Noodles: Better than I expected. I generally discourage ramen chefs (who ask) from making their own noodles, as they’re often too soft and hard to keep consistent. I was pleasantly surprised how well the noodles held up in the ramen. I just want to see a wavy option!
- Broth: This was a mixed bag for me. I liked the fishiness of the tsukemen broth. Could be even fishier, but that would probably put off many other diners. The tonkotsu broths were also good. I thought the regular tonkotsu had good texture and richness, though a little less strong/fatty/flavorful than at other ramen places. The miso in the tonkotsu miso had nice, prominent flavor. The shoyu, on the other hand, was just too weak. Shoyu is seemingly the simplest broth, and yet the most complex. It’s hard to get right, which is why it’s hard to find it in the Seattle area. Best was probably when the Onibaba Ramen pop-up was happening at Miyabi 45th. Sadly, that’s on hiatus.
- Toppings: Freshness of ingredients was great. Same for quality. But two concerns. First, for me, the meats are too lean. I admit that I’m not a fan of chicken slices in ramen. But the pork was also too lean. And I’m not sure what value grilling adds. At AFURI (popular in Japan, and now open in Portland), I love the grilled pork because it’s done to order, adding smokiness and oiliness that enhances the pork experience. The grilled pork at Bushi-Do was dry, with that second cooking process likely overkill. But even the other pork was too lean for both of us. (And the pork I sampled was quite cold.) The other issue would be the fruits and vegetables in the ramen. I tried to be open-minded in trying this, but didn’t care for it. The orange was jolting with its citrus burst. The avocado simply didn’t work for me. And while I occasionally see tomato as a variation of a ramen topping in Japan, I wasn’t a fan in this shoyu bowl.
The regular tonkotsu ramen was my favorite for approximating what I expect in that type of order. The shoyu was my least favorite because I didn’t care for any of the toppings, and the broth was too weak.
But let’s go back to my point about “healthy ramen.” It’s colorful and creative and suits the whim and vision of the chef, but I’m sure criticism will come from people comparing it to more traditional ramen. I know when I go out for ramen, it’s for a fatty, “guilty pleasure” experience. But maybe Bushi-Do is at the start of the trend, or the trendsetter, in terms of promoting healthier ramen? Or perhaps Bushi-Do can promote the brand without even saying it’s healthy ramen, with enough diners appreciating the product for what it is? Time will tell…