August 2014 Update
Since the first post, I had been back to Santouka 3 times.
Happy to see that they had fixed the noodle problem; the ramen noodle had been cooked perfectly bouncy each time.
Santouka had introduced new dishes as well.
My new favorite was the cold noodle salad, looked like it might be a seasonal item.
The noodle was perfect with lots of crisp fresh vegetables, and paired with the deliciously melt-in-the-month pork cheek meat (same as the one in my earlier review).
Another new dish was the tsukemen, dipping ramen noodle.
The ramen noodle in tsukemen was quite a bit thicker than the ones in soup ramen, creating a chewier, more exciting fun texture.
The dipping broth was super condensed, rich, meaty and Salty; the dish came with chunks of pork which seemed to be the cut ends of chashu and an egg.
The chashu ends were tender with great flavor; unfortunately the egg was still overcooked as before.
After we finished our noodles, our waitress brought over broth to dilute the dipping soup for consumption – nice, warm and delicious!
Original post May 2014
Second attempt, finally got to Santouka.
My girlfriend and I arrived right at 11am when they opened on a Monday and there was already a line.
Luckily, we were able to get seated fairly quickly.
The shop was not big — seat maybe about 40 people.
A very simple menu was offered: tonkotsu ramen with shouyu, shio, karamiso and miso base.
Eggs were extra; and there was toroniku – special pork cheek meats that were highly coveted.
We ordered different soup bases so we could try their variety and found ourselves comparing Santouka to Jin Ya throughout our meal.
I got the toroniku ramen with karamiso, egg on the side, and my girlfriend had the shio ramen.
We also had the pork bun as the appetizer.
Pork bun came first — and I would say overall, it was a disappointment.
The pork was fantastic — tender and fatty — but a thin slice, tucked in a bun that was on the hard side (not fluffy) with a wimpy stick of cilantro which was yellowing and some sweet miso paste.
I would actually call the pork bun bland.
I was not expecting flavor and texture bursting in my mouth (e.g. Taiwanese gua bao) since this was a Japanese style pork bun; however, I still expected better bun quality and more flavor.
Next was our ramen.
First, I had to try my girlfriend’s Shio Ramen since it was the plain unadulterated tonkotsu broth.
It was delicious!
Creamy, rich flavors of pork and pork bones, and without stickiness in the palate.
The flavors were subtle, and yet one could tell that it was a broth that was cooked over a long period of time, and that every ounce of the pork that was used had transformed into the broth.
Fantastic milky color, the broth was clearly the star, and what Santouka was famous for.
With the accent of fresh green onion, thinly sliced peppers, and pickled plum, it was a delicate, tasty broth to savor on.
For broth: Santouka vs. Jin Ya, Santouka 1.
My karamiso was delicious as well; however, as expected, the miso covered up the elegant and gentle pork flavor.
I wish they would offer a spicy version without miso; and their spiciness delivery was fairly low.
Moving onto the noodles.
I actually found my noodle too cooked, and too soft, and was not Q Q bouncy anymore.
It was the yellow egg noodle traditional ramen — it was not bad, but just expected a top notch ramen store not to overcook their noodle .
For noodle: Santouka vs. Jin Ya, Jin Ya 1.
Then, the pork.
The regular chashu was quite fatty, soft and tasty!
The meat portion was small, but their quality definitely shone through the bowl.
It was well-flavored – simply salted, and very little soy sauce flavor; quality meat was used to create the chashu and their website said they used rib meat only.
Just when I thought the chashu was good, my toroniku was out of this world!
Super tender, not very fatty, and amazingly melted in my mouth.
The texture of the pork cheek was clearly visible with a nice thin roasty skin and small layer of fat.
The portion on the pork cheek was generous and well worth the up charge for them.
I was just amazed by how buttery melty the pork was even without much fat!
For meat: Santouka vs. Jin Ya, Santouka 1.
Finally, the must-try egg.
Very disappointing, as my egg was not runny at all; it was flavored nicely with sweetened soy sauce, but it was 60% cook through in my yolk.
For egg: Santouka vs. Jin Ya — no winner! They both failed to deliver a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg.
It was 2 to 1 on the score board for Santouka vs. Jin Ya from a taste point of view.
Santouka was quite a bit more expensive than Jin Ya, so I was definitely sticker-shocked.
With my toroniku karamiso ramen with egg on the side plus tips and tax, it was $20.
Not sure I will be going there often as it was very pricy (especially compare to Vancouver, where there was delectable and cheaper ramen); it would be an option if I have a severe case of ramen craving and do not want to drive 3 hours.
Santouka is still the best ramen option in the Greater Seattle area.