Mitsuwa Japanese supermarket was having an “anniversary festival” so the wife and I went to check it out, not realizing that Santouka ramen (located in the Mitsuwa food court) was also having a special.
On 2/26 to 3/1, and also next week 3/5 Thurs to 3/8 Sun, the Santoukas in Mitsuwa Torrance, Costa Mesa, San Diego, Santa Monica, and even Chicago, is offering a special Toromi Shoyu ramen (“Gravy Soy Sauce” ramen). It’s limited to 20 bowls a day so you should get there early! The Santouka in Costa Mesa is open at 11am, and there was already a short line when we arrived about 10 till.
The ramen comes with bits of caramelized onions, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, menma, green onions, minced meat, a piece of roasted seaweed, and one slice of their regular chashu. Oh, and the rectangular, interesting-looking piece of something or other in the picture? It’s grilled tofu skin.
There’s a thick layer of gravy mixed in with the soup that makes it stand out, and it also makes it hot! I’ve complained about some ramenya with lukewarm soup…not this time. The gravy holds in the heat exceptionally well and made me blurt out “hot! hot! hot! i-th think i-th burnt-th my tongue-th!” This would be wonderful soup if it was snowing or raining outside. On a warm California day like today, it just made me hot. The gravy has a rich, savory flavor that reminds me of the kind of oyster sauce glaze that comes with Hong Kong pan-fried noodles.
The gravy coats everything, especially the noodles, and, together with the minced meat, gives the ramen a really rich flavor. I also enjoyed how the gravy coating gives everything a shiny, silky sheen. (Sorry, I realize this is not a shampoo commercial.) The caramelized onions added more to the aroma than the taste but played a welcome role and the green onions added both a nice texture and crispy freshness to the flavor. The grilled tofu skin was a surprising topping and decent tasting, balancing the gravy with a more neutral flavor. The single piece of chashu was the achilles heel. The chashu is half lean, half fat. The lean side is too lean and dry, while the fat side doesn’t really add any flavor.
The slightly curly egg noodles were chewy, decent, and added to the “am I eating this at a Japanese ramenya or a Chinese restaurant” feel. Frankly, this dish would do well at either place. This is a good bowl of noodles and worth a try if you’re looking for something different and you’re willing to risk missing the 20-bowl limit. On the other hand, (and I rarely mention price, but…) Santouka’s far superior tokusen toroniku ramen costs only a bit more and gives you far more bang for your buck.
The Santouka Toromi Shoyu ramen gets 7 out of 10