Review of Uchiwa Ramen

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Review of Uchiwa Ramen

By Kira Goeking

Uchiwa Ramen, which means “our house is ramen,” is a casual and hospitable restaurant that opened last September a block away from downtown San Rafael and is the first ramen house in Marin.  Uchiwa is a small, dimly lit joint composed of wooden tables with chairs and benches, a white counter accompanied by wooden stools, and an open kitchen.  The grey walls are barren apart from a prominent red “U” hanging on the back wall.  The ceilings are lined with wooden paneling and a couple small lights.  Various shades of grey square tiles line the floor, creating a simple and contemporary interior design.

When my three family members and I first arrived around noon for lunch, the restaurant was mostly empty and we were immediately offered our seating of choice.  We sat down at a four person table in the back corner and were handed the menu, which featured helpful descriptions of every item along with a brief history behind the creation of Uchiwa.  All of the dishes are inspired by Asian cuisine.  There were twelve various appetizers and seven types of ramen to choose from.  The first appetizer to arrive was the small Asian kale salad ($4.95).  Baby kale leaves were mixed with roasted kale and thinly sliced pear and red onions for a crunchy texture, and tossed in a simple toasted sesame dressing.  I enjoyed the added crunch and the taste was good, but it was nothing too special compared to the other dishes.

The next three meaty appetizers were my favorite items of the day.  First came the five small gyoza ($5.95), fried dumplings filled with pork and vegetables, served with a soy-vinegar sauce.  These bite-size pieces were crunchy and crisp on the outside, and stuffed with chewy and tasty bits on the inside.  The dumplings were very similar to Chinese pot stickers, but were tinier and crunchier.  The simple sauce paired well with the gyoza because it was not overwhelming and it still left you with the dumpling’s flavor.

One of the most popular dishes on the menu, the chili garlic pork wings ($6.95) were delicious as well.  I did not taste the “chili garlic” but enjoyed the unexpected sweet glaze covering the tender, well-cooked pork.  The karaage chicken ($5.95) was split into six bite size pieces, divided onto three different skewers.  Similar to the pork wings, the chicken was sweet, flavorful, and tender.  After the delectable appetizers, I was expecting superior ramen but was disappointed.

When ordering the ramen, you choose a broth (tonkotsu, shoyu, shio, or miso) and they are paired with selected toppings, but you have the freedom to add extras, remove some toppings, or substitute the meat for a vegetarian option or the noodles for gluten free ones.  The ramen bowls were decorated nicely with the all of the colorful toppings showing and the ramen hidden underneath.  The portion sizes were so large none of us could finish.  However, the ramen looked better than it tasted.

I ordered the shoyu ramen ($10.95) and was not a fan of most of the toppings.  I enjoyed the tender chasu (pork slice) and the soft boiled egg, but did not care for the other additions such as the fish cakes, bean sprouts, or bamboo shoots.  There was not much flavor to my soy sauce broth apart from some saltiness.  My favorite part of the ramen bowl was the ramen itself, I could have done without the toppings and even the broth.  The noodles were cooked well and had a pleasant chewy texture.

The vegetarian miso ($10.95) had many of the same toppings as the shoyu, but tofu as a replacement to the chasu and the addition of asparagus and corn.  Surprisingly, the broth had a lot of flavor considering the vegetarian toppings.  While there was a taste to the miso broth, it was not delicious enough to drink alone from the bowl, just good enough to enjoy with the ramen.

The most disappointing of the ramen bowls was the tonkotsu ($11.95), Uchiwa’s signature ramen bowl.  Tonkotsu is all about the pork.  The broth is flavored from hours of boiling pork bones and fat.  This made for a strange and unpleasant taste.  I like pork and enjoyed the pork items I had eaten earlier, but this ramen bowl let me down.  I was expecting a wonderful and tasty broth especially because it is the house special, but was left with an unidentifiable, distasteful flavor.

Overall, Uchiwa’s appetizers were definitely a hit, but the ramen fell short.  The service was incredible.  The food was brought out quickly and the waiter was inviting and helpful.  He took our orders when we were ready and brought us our check right away.  The total cost of our meal was $79.32 (with tax and no tip) which is a reasonable price for the many dishes the four of us ordered.

By the time we left, the restaurant was almost full and the volume stayed at a moderate level.  If you are a serious ramen lover looking for a perfect bowl of ramen, Uchiwa is not the place for you.  However, if you just want a warm bowl of ramen to satisfy your noodle craving and do not want to venture into the city, Uchiwa will work, but I suggest you order some appetizers as well.  Uchiwa is located at 821 B Street in San Rafael, and is open Monday through Saturday for lunch from 11:30-2 P.M. and dinner from 5:30-9 P.M.