rank city: ramen edition | Tensuke 3/20/16

candyThe second stop in rank city: ramen edition was Tensuke Market for some Palm Sunday ramen. Tensuke might be one of my favorite places in Columbus. It’s an authentic Japanese market full of inexpensive produce, sushi-grade fish, 20 lb bags of rice, and racks and racks of weird candy. It also has a dining area where you can get sushi, soups, and other fast Japanese foods.

What we ordered: Steamed pork dumplings, karaage, tonkatsu ramen with pork tenderloin, miso ramen with spicy kimchi pork

Appetizer: The appetizers are not the main appeal at Tensuke, but I have no restraint when it comes to dumplings. The gyoza had a nice filling of pork and spices, but were a bit underwhelming. Same goes for the karaage. They weren’t as light and crispy as Meshikou’s, but still offered a nice start to the meal. For both appetizers, we mixed up our own dipping sauces. This is a pretty key part of dining at Tensuke; you get/need to mix up your own concoction of soy sauce, chili oil, sriracha, and whatever else is available to add to your meal. Score: 3IMG_0384

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Broth: Tensuke has a pretty big variety of choices for broth and protein, but I felt I had to go with the tonkatsu broth for authenticity’s sake. Sadly, it was a pretty plain backbone for my ramen, and needed to be dressed up with the aforementioned Japanese condiments. But, the miso/kimchi combination needed no dressing up. I was surprised by the layers of flavor present in the miso broth, and the kimchi kicked up the spice level perfectly. Score: We scored the tonkatsu a 3 and the spicy kimchi a 4, for an average of 3.5

Protein: Because Tensuke is designed to be a fast dining experience, I don’t think they’re as concerned with sending out perfectly executed 6 minute eggs. However, nothing is sadder than an overcooked egg, and I’m tearing up just thinking about that solid yolk. While the pork tenderloin was not as memorable, the spicy pork in our miso ramen was very flavorful and a nice addition to the bowl. Score: 3IMG_0383

Noodles: Quantity over quality may be the case for Tensuke’s noodles. They are undoubtedly better than your average Top Ramen noodles, but didn’t quite reach that chewy noodle nirvana. There did, however, seem to be a never ending supply coming from my bowl. Score: 3.5

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My proudest dining moment.

Environment/Service: I’ve never been to Japan, but I would guess Tensuke feels the most authentic of all the Columbus Japanese restaurants. You order and pick up your food at the counter, but the service is fast and friendly. It’s typically a bustling place, with shoppers and families with little kids all waiting for their turn at a table. But there is no edging out other diners with side eye or loud harrumphing. We went on a busy Sunday afternoon and were happy to wander the aisles of the grocery side while we waited for a table. Score: 4.5

Affordability: Two appetizers and two bowls of ramen came to $24.56. Almost felt like stealing. Score: 4.5

Overall thoughts: I love Tensuke, so it was hard to give middling scores in many of the categories. It’s designed to be a fast, casual dining experience but not in the Chipotle way. Their food and products are very good, but finesse is not the name of their game. While it won’t satisfy any fine dining desires, Tensuke is a particularly great lunch spot with excellent prices and generous portions.

Total score: 22, plus 1 bonus point for being featured on Morning EditionΒ and another for how fun it is to say “Tensuke.” 24.

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rank city: ramen edition | Meshikou 3/18/16

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The first stop in rank city: ramen edition was Meshikou. Meshikou opened in 2014 and like most good Asian restaurants, it’s located in a strip mall, sandwiched between a popcorn store and a poker club. Also there is a hockey store, because those are a thing.

What we ordered: Meshikou Karaage, Barbecue Chashu Bun, Shoyu Paitan Ramen with pork tenderloin

Appetizer: The Barbecue Chashu Bun (pork belly steam buns) and Meshikou Karaage (Japanese fried chicken) were a great start to our meal. I’ve had some misses with pork belly in the past, so am always a bit hesitant with the first bite. The pork belly had a very tasty barbecue glaze and was cooked nicely. The fatty parts weren’t gristly or chewy, which is always my fear with pork belly. The buns were slightly overdressed with lettuce; we would have been happy with just a few cucumber slices to add coolness and crunch.

I was a big fan of the karaage. Asian fried chicken, whether Japanese or Korean, is proving to be one of my favorite styles. The breading was light and crispy while the meat was still very moist and juicy. It also came with a tasty tangy sauce, and in a cute miniature fryer basket. I haven’t eaten KFC since my whole family got food poisoning when I was 10, but in the words of one diner/boyfriend, “This is like popcorn chicken for royalty.” Score: 4IMG_0214

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Broth: Sadly, Meshikou no longer makes pork broth. Based on Yelp comments, they don’t think they can get enough quality pork to make their broth, which is hard to believe IMO, but whatevs. Instead, their ramen is served with a chicken broth. You can choose a milky or clear broth, but who wants clear broth with ramen?Β  I was surprised by how good the chicken broth was, but it just didn’t reach the depth that tonkatsu (pork) broth gets. Score: 3.5ramen bowl

Protein: We went with pork tenderloin in the ramen because we were already having pork belly in the steam buns. The tenderloin was cooked nicely and soaked up a lot of flavor from the broth. The egg was cooked pretty perfectly for ramen. Firm white with a viscous yolk. Egg yolk is the best condiment/sauce you could put on anything, and this one did not disappoint. Score: 4

Noodles: We had heard that Meshikou uses the same ramen noodles as David Chang, so we had high expectations. The noodle rumors are unconfirmed, but these were delicious, in any case. Perfectly chewy and dense without being too al dente. Score: 4.5

Environment/Service: I was expecting Meshikou to be more crowded on Friday night, but we were seated immediately. There were only big tables open, so we sat at the bar. I don’t always enjoy eating at the bar, but in this case it was comfortable. All of our plates and bowls (for splitting the ramen) were warmed, which is a major point-scorer for me. There’s nothing worse than having hot food served on a cold plate. Our server was great–nice and attentive but not chatty. We also heard two Whitney songs while there, so points for that. Score: 4

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Affordability: The two appetizers and one bowl of ramen clocked in at $27. Not a bad price for two people to eat dinner, but we did only have one bowl of ramen. Score: 3.5

Overall thoughts: This was my first trip to Meshikou. After reading the Yelp reviews and learning they no longer had pork broth, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was surprised by the good flavor of the chicken broth, but it didn’t hit the ramen expectations I had in mind. I never got the sated feeling that deep, fatty, super flavorful pork broth offers. Which also meant I didn’t feel that full, despite eating half of everything I described. The ramen also cooled down rather quickly; I think it was served in a plastic bowl. I will definitely go back to Meshikou and try some more things, but will probably get my own bowl of ramen. They do not serve alcohol, but the cucumber water is a nice touch.

Total score: 23.5, plus 1 bonus point for the Japanese candy we got in lieu of fortune cookies. 24.5.

Stay tuned for the next ramen stop!

rank city: ramen edition

For the inaugural set of Rank City posts (in which I rank whatever I choose), I’ve decided to start with ramen. Columbus has a surprising amount of ramen restaurants; a new one even opened while I was working on these posts. If you never got on the David Chang train and to you, ramen costs .99 and tastes like MSG, you are depriving your tastes buds of an experience. While Columbus’ ramen may not rival Momofuku or the real deal in Japan, it’s worth checking out the varieties.

On to the fine print. I will rank the restaurants and their ramen on a 5 point scale for each of these categories:

  • Appetizer
  • Broth
  • Noodles
  • Protein
  • Environment/Service
  • Affordability

For a total high score of 30, plus any bonus points I want to throw in.

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Enjoy!