Miyata Menji: Is L.A. Ready For Ramen Wackiness?
Thanks to Yamadaya and Jinya and a few others, no neighborhood is safe from the ramen explosion that is currently sweeping through Los Angeles. The Valley, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, Culver City, even Koreatown has a better than average ramen option, saving pork loving noodle fans from the lines at Daikokuya, or the trip west to Santouka. It doesn’t matter where you live or work, a good to great bowl of ramen should be no more than 15 minutes away from anywhere in the city. And now that Tsujita is open, L.A. finally has the kind of place that you only read about on blogs like Rameniac or in magazines like Lucky Peach. The small ramenya dedicated to serving up a single, perfectly crafted bowl of soup- take it or leave it.
When you take a step back and look at the history of ramen in this city, the progression seems pretty clear. Introduction, Explosion, Expansion, Perfection. So, what’s next? It’s got to be innovation. How else would you expect to survive, opening a restaurant specializing in ramen and tsukemen across the street from the best ramen and tsukemen restaurant in the city. Ok, so maybe innovation is a kind word for what Miyata Menji is, the latest ramenya to open in West L.A. (right across the street from Tsujita, in the old Gr/eats space.) Downright wacky is more like it.
Their menu, which you may have seen here a few weeks ago, has got just two options. Ramen or tsukemen.
The ramen is called a tonkotsu ramen, but it likely doesn’t look or taste like any ramen you’ve ever had in L.A. The broth is slicked with a bit of fat, but the requisite pork belly is replaced by slices of beef that the menu refers to as teriyaki, but I’d say is more like bulgogi. For toppings, there are scallions, garlic, and fried shallots, but the standout is obviously the chunks of tomato which add an odd freshness to contrast with the oily tonkotsu broth. The noodles are perfectly good, but not as great as the Miyata Menji website, or the photos on the wall, would have you believe. It’d be easy to scoff and say it’s not as good as Tsujita or other ramen places (and many will) but it wasn’t terrible. Just different.
The tsukemen, on the other hand, will be a bit more polarizing. The noodles are the same as what you get in the ramen, even though in the photo they look like fettuccine, and come to the table in a strainer all cold and clumped together underneath a big heap of boiled cabbage and parmesan.
If you thought Tsujita’s dipping broth was too fishy, wait until you get your noodles into this curry-like sludge. It’s so thick I wouldn’t call it a broth, and so packed with bonito or anchovies or whatever it is they make it with that you can’t even taste the cheese. It’s also not particularly hot, and the noodles are a bit colder than they should be, making for a pretty jarring combo.
You’re encouraged to help yourself to the bread that is on a table against the wall, but don’t bother. It’s as dry and stale as you’d expect pre sliced bread held in a plastic container all day to be.
Did I love Miyata Menji? Not really. But I didn’t hate it either. I kind of don’t know how to feel about it. They’re actually not the first ramen place to veer off into cheese and tomato wackiness. Yamadaya offers a ramen covered in parmesan cheese and Ikemen, in Hollywood, has some pretty weird tsukemen dishes (including one with all Italian ingredients.) But the standard ramen dishes at those two places provide proof that they have mastered their craft. Miyata Menji doesn’t. It’s generally accepted that to be a truly innovative artist, you have to first master the basics. And even though food might not always be art, the same principle kind of applies.
So is Miyata Menji the misunderstood genius, pushing Los Angeles ramen into its next phase of existence? Or just another bush league ramenya, throwing a bunch of a wacky shit into a bowl and hoping the gimmick will bring in enough customers who don’t feel like waiting at Tsujita? I honestly don’t know (although I’m inclined to think it’s the latter). Either way, I’m not sure the majority of L.A. is ready for this level of wackiness just yet.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- So sick of the same bowl of tonkotsu ramen being served at every new place. I get it! Everybody loves pork belly. But I’m ready for a change.
- I love the idea of a super fishy, super thick tsukemen broth. Bring it on!
- I love it when Japanese restaurants do wacky things with traditionally Italian or even American ingredients. (Ketchup and bacon pasta FTW!)
- No lines! Unlike Tsujita across the street.
- This kind of ramen is considered super hip in Japan. Maybe the US just isn’t ready for it…
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like place this would say)
- Replacing pork belly with cheap slices of beef is a crime against humanity.
- Tomato and parmesan in my ramen? No thanks.
- I’d rather wait in line at Tsujita.
- I know tsukemen is supposed to be on the cooler side of things, but this one was a bit too cold and the broth was a bit too lukewarm.
- The tsukemen noodles come out all clumped together. That’s kind of bush league.
- The ramen broth is too light. I prefer my ramen broth to be a bit more fatty and porky.
- Don’t eat the bread!
- Isn’t this place owned by a Japanese comedian? Maybe it’s just a joke…
Miyata Menji, 2050 Sawtelle Blvd. 310-312-3929