Dinner at Noraneko
I had half an expectation for this place to become my favorite ramen joint in PDX because: ① its existence was made known to me by one of my favorite people at Willamette, and ② unlike most Japanese restaurants in the States that have an archetypically Shōwa name (which 9 out of 10 times means they're not run by Japanese owners), Noraneko (野良猫) means "stray cat" which pretty much describes my life in one word.
So it breaks my heart to report that after trying Noraneko, I have come to the conclusion that Portland excels at many things, but ramen doesn't seem to be one of them.
Noraneko's shio ramen pretty much failed across the board in terms of broth / shiodare, toppings, and noodles, but before getting into that, a few pet peeves. First of all, no self-respecting Japanese establishment that serves gyoza would preclude vinegar/la yu (ラー油) as an on-table condiment, and the wait staff should be educated regarding this so not to bring half a bowl of vinegar when asked if the kitchen could provide some for mixing with shōyu and white pepper for gyoza dipping.
Second, presentation matters. Even in the most basic of Japanese cuisine (home cooking included) there's a very simple aesthetic known as mori (盛り) where condiments or toppings are piled, facing toward the center and up in a conical fashion. Toppings should not be just thrown atop the ramen in ad-hoc fashion--even at Menoh, a FRANCHISE joint, we had a diagram for the toppings: chashū at 9 o'clock, menma at 11 o'clock, negi mori'd in the center, kikurage mushrooms at 1 o'clock and so on.
Third, proper technique matters. I was sitting on the bar counter close to the kitchen and I was able to observe some of the cooks at work, and I noticed that the cook in charge of the noodles didn't bother to yugiri (湯切り,draining water from the noodles in a cutting motion); instead, he just hoisted the noodle strainer (multiples at once) from the water boiler, kinda just let them dangle in the air for a bit and just poured the noodles into the bowls, which probably diluted the shit out of whosever's ramen it was emptied into.
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