Izakaya Ouan soon rose in its place. Coming on the heels of the closing of Tecchan, Ouan seems to have some good timing. Seeing that my last few meals at Izakaya Masa was far from satisfying, I thought I'd give Ouan a cautious try, so I headed over for lunch.
The place was empty for the entire duration of my visit. The folks here are somewhat distant, but professional. I saw something on my menu that I enjoy, Vegetable Kakiage, basically mixed vegetable strips in tempura batter, when made well, like the version at Izakaya Sakura, is light and satisfying, a textural delight. So I got the Vegetable Kakiage Don ($7.50) plus some Ebi (shrimp $3.00).
First off, the miso soup was watered down quite a bit. The rice was on the dry side, but the vegetable was very nice, light, well fried, great crunch, though the tsuyu was a bit too salty. The shrimp was ok, the batter a little too gummy and shrimp kind of small for my taste. At over $10, this was nowhere near as good as Sakura's $8.50 Ebi Kakiage Soba/Udon......but hey, we're paying the Hillcrest premium for this, right?
Still, this was good enough for me to want to check them out for dinner.....and my good buddy Candice was nice enough to join me.
We started with the Tako Wasabi with Lemon Zest ($4.50).
Even though this seemed like Nishimoto Trading type Tako Wasabi, the lemon zest really helped to add a nice dimension to the dish, it really raised the flavor. This unfortunately was the best item of the night.
Things didn't go that badly downhill with the Fried Skate Wing.....a simple basic deep fried engawa seasoned with salt and togarashi.
This was fine, though a couple of the pieces were on the gummy side with regards to the batter....seems like temperatures weren't quite under control.
Since I love chicken wings, I ordered the Spicy Miso Marinated Wings ($6.50).
This wasn't very spicy, the flavor of the aka miso wasn't tempered making this salty. Also the wings were tough. After the first one, I stopped paying attention and was having a great time chatting with Candice....until I looked down and noticed that the last wing I ate was bloody red.......ick. I know, I have eaten chicken sashimi, but that was by my own choosing.......
The Shio Koji Lamb Chop ($14) was tragic, rubbery and tough, lacking in the umami I expected.
Koji, Aspergillus Oryzae, a mold formed by fermentation and used in making soy sauce and sake is supposed to be an umami enhancer. In this case all it left was a mild sour taste on the tough lamb.
The final item we ordered was called Spacey Ramen ($12.95) on the menu. Apparently, it had pork, chicken, wood ear, truffle, etc, etc......
This is a good example of fusion gone bad.......the "sauce" had the texture of a very greasy bolognese sauce, drenched with a rather unpleasant amount of truffle oil. The noodles were fine, but the whole greasiness of the dish and the over-powering faux truffle fragrance just killed the dish for us. We could barely get past a couple of bites......
In the end, I felt really bad for inviting Candice to dinner, only to experience this. It would be one thing if the place was super busy, but they were only half full. Sadly, it seemed like they were jusy going through the motions. Just take a look at the menu....it says they serve their ramen with "tonkatsu" not tonkotsu, chicken based broth. Oh the power of the single letter.........
Still, being the glutton for punishment that I am; I had a hard time believing that a place that had more than few people recommending it to me would be so bad. So I made one final "safe" lunchtime visit and got the Ouan Black Ramen ($9.25) with a poached egg ($1.50).
The standard issue noodles were perfect, the broth fine (no it's not black garlic oil like Yamadaya, just some oil with black sesame), if a bit too "thin" for my tastes....though it could be because it's, ahem, "tonkatsu" style!?!?!?! The chasu was ice cold and the "poached egg" apparently an attempt as something sort of like onsen tamago, was overcooked as the yolk was fully cooked and solid. Again, that bugaboo about not attending to details, which seems to be sort of the theme here. Overall, not too bad, but at almost $11, I'll take Toroniku at Santouka or Yamadaya anytime at that price point.
Ramen Izakaya Ouan
3882 4th Ave
San Diego, CA 92103