Confession: Over the past few months, I had been getting a tad tired of ramen in L.A.
That wasn’t always the case, of course. Quite the contrary, when the initial wave of renowned Japanese noodle shops came to town and opened shop (Tsujita, Santouka, etc.), I was giddy with the expectation that consistently world-class ramen had finally arrived in our neighborhoods. And, for a time, it was beautiful.
But then came the mediocre stuff. Gradually, it felt like everyone and their cousins started offering ramen on their menus, and most of it wasn’t really great. Trying so many new ramen-yas began to feel like a chore to me. It all started to become a big blur. The decision was made to stick to eating ramen from my favorite places, and I found myself not so excited about Japanese ramen in L.A. anymore.
That is, until my lunch today at Iki Ramen.
At a friend’s insistence, I tried this relatively new entry into the L.A. ramen scene for the first time back in January. At that time, I really enjoyed the chef’s take on ramen, serving up a clean, crisp broth, and house-made ice creams. Little did I know that bigger and better things were in store for me upon my return trip today! This second-visit meal was prepared with so much refinement, I came away convinced that Iki Ramen has transcended from just ‘the new ramen slinger on the block’ to something far more vital. The recent evolution of the menu here played a large part in opening my eyes.
Let’s get to the food!!! There is no better weather for ramen than a cool, overcast afternoon, with a bit of drizzle permeating the air…
Clean lines, clean interior…
Chef Jeffry works on Sundays. He is truly Sergio today…
Hamachi crudo, with cherry tomatoes, radish, Japanese cucumber and jalapeno (off-menu daily special today)… Perfectly seasoned. Such a nice start to lunch!
Cold tofu, with shoyu, kizami wasabi… Gentle and refreshing.
Salmon & ikura don, with Scottish salmon, dashi-marinated salmon roe, furikake, sesame seed & shredded nori… Usually the donburi at ramen-yas play second fiddle to the noodle dishes. Not here. The quality of the ingredients really stand out. The ikura used in this bowl is of the highest grade, as each egg popped with as much zest as the ones from exalted temples of sushi.
Smoky pork bao, with two steamed buns, smoked pork belly, cucumber & spicy mayo… Outstanding. I definitely recommend this one.
Kakuni bao, with two steamed buns, chopped slowly-braised pork, cucumbers, and house bao sauce… Another winner. These bao are among the best of any ramen-ya out there in L.A. currently.
Shishito bacon, with fried shishito peppers, bacon bits, spicy garlic ponzu & bonito shavings… Some would say that adding the bacon is cheating, as bacon makes everything pleasurable. I see nothing wrong with that.
Kaisen don, with sushi rice, sesame seed, cucumber, maguro, salmon, yellowtail, tai, kanpachi, spicy tuna, blue crab, dashi-infused ikura, all mixed with special shoyu, served with nori & kizami wasabi… Wow! It tasted as wonderful as it sounded.
Four temaki (handrolls): Salmon, spicy tuna, yellowtail, & blue crab… These were okay, but not anything spectacular. The nori was texturally nice and crunchy, though.
… and now, onto the noodles!!!
Tonkotsu ramen, with shoyu-based pork bone stock, slow braised pork belly, kikurage, sweet corn, scallions, nori, and ajitama… I thought it’d be neat to contrast my excellent clear bowl from my last visit to Iki with a bowl from the opposite end of the viscosity spectrum. And this bowl is downright stupendous. The broth is wholesome yet not slurry, deep and comforting all at the same time. Noodles are on the hard side, and play well with the soup. The chashu is absolutely phenomenal on its own, and truly a delight to eat. The ajitama is just the right amount of runny. This tonkotsu ramen surpasses my previous favorite Los Angeles version at Tsujita LA. I love this bowl.
Just when I thought I had reached the apex of my already-fantastic lunch, two plates of noodles came which rocked my palate…
Uni mazamen, with ramen noodle, sea urchin sauce, mentaiko, dashi-infused ikura & shredded nori… Mazemen is essentially soupless ramen, and is just on the cusp of being introduced on a wide scale to Angelenos. The interesting story here is that Chef Jeffry was invited to the L.A. Times Food Bowl earlier this month, but was worried that his broths would not transport well. Thus, mazemen was introduced to the Iki Ramen menu! This particular noodle dish is amongst the most delicious I’ve had in Los Angeles - Perfect al dente, with the uni, mentaiko and ikura all working in harmony. I couldn’t get enough.
Langoustine mazemen, with ramen noodle, seafood alfredo, sautéed langoustine & shredded nori… Game over, man! This plate of pasta rules. Again, perfect mouthfeel, as well as balanced in its taste. Chef Jeffrey says he cannot always source langoustines, but I got very lucky today! Boss noodles, to the highest degree!
Housemade matcha cheesecake, light brulee, served with hoji-cha… Nice. Understated, delicate sweetness.
Black sesame crème brulee, with sesame seeds… Terrific.
Housemade yuzu ice cream… The essence of that wonderful citrus permeates this creation. Of note, the correct richness, texture and nodogoshi of these ice creams are on par with any of the high-end purveyors out there.
Housemade shio koji ice cream… My favorite dessert, hands down. The Japanese equivalent of sea salt/caramel ice cream, the Iki version far surpasses its non-Asian counterparts in all facets.
Service was cordial and very attentive.
Can one say a casual ramen meal was memorable? Because I think the word ‘memorable’ definitely applies here, and in the best way. Today, Chef Jeffry led me to my new favorite bowl of pork ramen in L.A. The side dishes were ridiculously well-executed. And on top of that, both mazemen plates I ordered blew my mind. Additionally, the updated menu now offers a $45 per person, five course tasting menu, as well as a $15 per person sake tasting menu!
Iki Ramen started as a humble ramen-ya, which is now obviously striving to become much more - And on many levels, I find that it already does succeed. Brilliantly.
740 S. Western Ave., #116
Los Angeles, CA 90005