It's hard to believe that as little as 3 years ago, I was thrilled to have two basic choices for ramen in San Diego, Santouka and Yakyudori....sorry folks Tajima and Izakaya Masa just didn't cut it for me. It seems that overnight, "ramen-mania" took over.....shades of "burger saturation"! Now of course, it seems that every place is getting into the act. In fact, I've started to separate my ramen into "tiers"; the better quality, usually more expensive, richer, more complex versions are tier 1. The cheaper, get it on the run, rather generic, mostly just for nourishment versions are tier 2. I hope never to have a tier three....well maybe there is a tier 3, I can check my cupboard to see if I might have a package of the stuff in there from the last decade!
I thought I'd do a series of posts on places that have opened over the last year-and-a-half or so, part of what I call the "ramen renaissance". All these are revisits except 1.......so let's start slurping.
The last....and only time I visited Underbelly, I thought it to be over-priced and somewhat underwhelming.
I did think they were trying to serve a good product, so I thought it would be nice to see how things have progressed. I was really happy to see the folding windows/counter were securely bolted down. There's now some outdoor seating, which is a "no-beer zone" as well.
A bunch of folks asked me why I didn't mention the "no spoon" policy at Underbelly. Well, based on history with this group...the no ketchup at Neighborhood, no vodka at Craft and Commerce, the place has this "minus one" type of thing going on. They are into the Paris Hilton school of any buzz, be it negative or positive, is good. A couple of good friends of mine are big fans of this groups restaurants/bars so I always kid them about the next "minus one concept" restaurant they'll be opening.....some examples, "Madison Square Garden", where you get MSG (get it???) laden food, but no water is served, or "Origami" where beautifully folded paper representations of dishes grace the table, but no real food is served.... Okay, well, I've already spent too much time on this.
As before the drill is look over the menu, order and pay at the bar, get a number and grab a seat. At least this day wasn't too windy or cold as this corner can be pretty chilly.
I ordered the Underbelly Ramen and added Beef Brisket, so this rung in at $15.....
The standard Nishimoto Trading noodles were prepared much better this time around, actually attaining a bit of pull. The proteins, even the smoked beef brisket, which didn't taste like it was smoked last time worked well. The egg was wonderfully runny and the chashu was a perfect match of tenderness and flavor.
The broth wasn't quite as oily as my previous visit and was like the atmosphere here, served a bit too cool for my taste. It lacked that tongue-coating richness and didn't have much flavor. Dare I say...bland?
If it's all about the protein for you, I guess you might like Underbelly. Me? Well, I still think there's a hipster ramen upcharge for eating here.....
750 W. Fir St
San Diego, CA 92101