By Dan Lieberman, @LiebermanTweets
As a latchkey kid growing up, I felt that I had a solid idea of what ramen was. Boiling noodles for three minutes (even though they’re remarkably delicious raw) and adding that packet of dehydrated MSG was my first real foray into cooking. I had made it into my adult professional career when I realized that there was a wider world of ramen when I found a long line of people standing outside Santa Ramen on San Mateo’s B Street. Every day, starting a half-hour before opening, the faithful lined up for earthly delights with a religious fervor. When I was able to sneak out of the office early enough, I joined this congregation and the spirit hit me in a deep, meaningful, and pork-filled way. Ever since, I have been a proselytizer of this humble fast food, not the first, and certainly not the last.
As such, when I heard the acclaimed Orenchi Ramen was opening a third location in Redwood City, I was delighted. And when I learned it was across the street from the Caltrain station, I knew that I had to bring this knowledge to the people the best way I knew how; through a public transportation blog. But while I take this responsibility seriously, my desire for lunch outranks it so I hopped on the 139 and got ready to put my name on the list.
After opening the doors, the waitstaff went down the list one by one, seating each table and taking their order before getting the next party. With only three soup options on the menu, I ordered the Orenchi Ramen and began to take in the sights, the large windows looking out at the north end of the station. Behind the bar, they were dishing out a dozen bowls of ramen, giving the pork a last minute sear with a blowtorch before they went out.
The food came fast, with the guy seated next to me at the bar getting his order of chicken karaage in about a minute. My soup wasn’t far behind, and I tasted the tonkotsu broth with my soup-bearing left hand while dunking my nori and splitting the soft boiled egg with my chopsticked right. The broth was rich and decadent without being greasy with a nutty overtone from the sesame seeds, and the noodles and bamboo both had a good chew to them. The pork was sliced thinly, and had a mild but tasty flavor. The star of the show was that egg; very yolky and permeated by soy sauce, it was simple perfection. Generations of chickens lived and died in the hopes that one of their offspring could be this delicious. I finished my bowl, refusing to allow even the dregs to go back to the kitchen out of both gluttony and the fear of insulting the chef. As I strolled out, I knew I had to return.
Thankfully, it’s winter, and selling someone on a bowl of hot soup is far from a hard sell. The next week my colleague and I were back in line seeking a different experience. We started with me bullying him into trying the age takoyaki for the first time. I was not let down by the gooey, creamy balls of potato, cabbage and octopus, topped with a few sauces, a sprinkle of furikake and smoky katsuobushi. That kept us occupied until my shoyu and his shio ramen arrived. The shoyu broth led with the bold umami of soy sauce, but had sweet and porky elements in the background, and somehow reminded me of my mother’s matzo ball soup. The spinach was similarly flavored, while the fish cake gave a more neutral taste, allowing me to get my bearings before heading back to flavor country. The shio was similarly salty and meaty, with a light acidity from the yuzu. I can’t pick a clear winner out of the three, but I intend to keep going back to try.
The Peninsula has never lacked for good ramen options, but I’m never one to turn my nose up at another. I recommend arriving early or being prepared to wait, as word has already gotten out about this gem. So the next time you’ve got a long wait for your train in Redwood City, grab a bowl and get slurping. And if you see someone a table over from you smiling under fogged-up glasses, feel free to send me something fried to say thank you.
Chew Chew Train is a bimonthly blog feature highlighting places to eat along the Caltrain line. If you have a suggestion for a future restaurant, please email Public Affairs Specialist Dan Lieberman at firstname.lastname@example.org.