Wow, it’s been some time since I’ve had a blog and made updates. I pulled the trigger to reactive my WordPress account and voila, here we are.
Today was inspired by our recent trip to Japan. Missing the food inspired my wife and I to travel from our home in Bellingham to Seattle / Bellevue to a) eat Ramen, and b) shop at Uwajimaya. Here’s a recap of the day.
The day actually started by checking out the Amazon Go store. Think, sterile, fancy, automated, empty (it was Sunday after all), cashier-less, app-powered-store, minimally stocked grocery store. But hey, they had all of your essentials.
the store is surrounded by, I believe to be other Amazon office buildings.
for the novel experience, we purchased a smoothie. the cool thing is you don’t pull out a credit card. there are no cashiers. simply having your app on the iPhone and walking through a gate that somehow, magically, talks to your amazon account and syncs the purchase.
as we were walking back to the car, I noticed this leaf right off the sidewalk. This time of the year, everything is photogenic. It’s really crucial that I remember to bring my camera with me everywhere.
next stop, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka.
The attention to detail / the little things: 2/5
so, bear in mind this review is coming after having recently come back from Japan (we were back in the states a week ago).
I wanted to love this place. My excitement was high – perhaps part of the problem.
I took this rather lousy iPhone photo of the story of this establishment which was in the first page of a menu. How many of you read these? Do you enjoy them?
for our order,
- Appetizer 1: Chicken karaage
- Appetizer 2: Gyoza
- Appetizer 3: Side Salad
- Main Dish (Atalie): Toroniku Ramen
- Main Dish (Nathan): Chashu Ramen w/added egg and bamboo shoots
here’s our food
and in it’s full spread glory
now, let’s get to my opinions on this meal and experience
I paid $2.00 extra for this egg, which was underwhelming. The egg was practically hard-boiled. It lacked the complexity of it having that gooey orangey goodness that you associate with a good bowl of ramen. The egg ended up becoming a distraction which took away from the meal itself.
the noodles in Atalie’s Toroniku Ramen were stuck together as if they’d been welded. As you can see, one small grab from the chopsticks pulls the rest of the ramen noodles as if they were all connected.
This is a closer look at the noodles from Atalie’s dish. You can see that some of the noodles are dried out while the other noodles have a light glossing of what may be oil to prevent the noodles from joining. This lack of consistency is a by product of a rushed kitchen, sloppy plating, and an overall lack of attention to detail.
The chashu from my ramen was quite tasty. It had all of the richness, fat layered together and taste I like to see in the chashu in my bowl.
now comes the regrettable part that I have to write and share about this experience.
So our total bill came out to $48.40 including tax. I tipped 15% off the subtotal ($44 * 15%) to have a grand total of $55.00. Between two people, $27.50 per head. As you will see why in a minute, I think this 15% tip is generous. I only tipped this because I’m aware of the waiters livelihoods being tied to this, and while I think they did a horrible job, I know that I can’t fully understand everything that led to this what would be poor experience for me.
This meal simply missed the mark and I will now share the big things that left a bad taste. The service from our waiter, Dylan, started off on the right food. Friendly, prompt. Water was brought. He asked if we’d like to order a drink besides water which we declined. We were able to place our order in a reasonable time (probably within 5 minutes of being seated).
The Karaage was the first dish brought out. The breading was soggy. A good karaage is crunchy and crispy. With each bite, juices and oils explode into your mouth leaving a satisfactory savory feel. You often need water or whatever beverage (beer is my favorite) to wash down the hot temperatures that you overwhelmed the roof of your month because of your excitement to chomp into the chicken.
This karaage was different — each bite was lacking any type of crispiness. The texture was uneven, oddly shaped, and lacked any type of feel that this came from the fryer. To be frank, it could have come from the microwave — this wouldn’t surprise me.
On to the gyoza. The gyoza wasn’t bad. There wasn’t anything special about it, but maybe after eating these unsatisfying chicken karaage I was more forgiving, and simply wanted something to overtake the strange sensations I was getting from eating the karaage.
The salad was also underwhelming. As you can see from this picture, it has the look and feel and characteristics of having some green quickly pulled from a plastic bag and thrown into a bowl. To me, these dishes, the ones where you can tell that the level of effort and care – I mean it is a side salad after all – is lacking is very indicative of the mood and feel of the staff preparing the meals. While yes, it’s not the reason we were brought to the restaurant, any small thing that can be done to build up to the lead of the main dish helps with the experience. This side salad, I guess if you can call it that, may as well have been some cheaply wrapped salad packaged, produced, distributed to be dumped into this bowl. These small things have the opportunity to create a unique experience and build excitement for the anticipation of the main meal.
Once the ramen came, I was already feeling disappointed. The ramen itself may have saved the overall experience. The size was appropriate. The broth had nice hints of milk, miso, spice. The presentation could have used some work, but by this point given all of the other mishaps, I didn’t expect much. Given how much negativity has been written already, I’ll leave the photos posted of Atatlie’s ramen do all of the talking. In the end, once the noodles were dunked into her ramen bowl, it turned out to be only okay. The dryness is temporarily saved in this moment.
Now the service. When we first entered the restaurant, there was no wait. I’d estimate that we got there around 11:45am (bill time is 12:29pm). We sat at a booth (which could sit 4 people). As our meal was coming to an end, very rudely, the waiter came by to ask Atalie if she would like them to box her ramen up. I kid you not when I say that this happened as Atalie was mid-bite with her chopsticks held up scissoring the clump of ramen noodles. I was shocked. It was pretty clear that they were trying to rush us out, as I looked toward the front entrance and now saw that a queue had formed.
Probably within a minute, a different wait staff (presumably the floor manager) brings by our check. We were never offered the courtesy “Can I get you anything else?” or “Would you like to browse our dessert menu?” Instead, an invitation to pay and get outta here. Disturbed by this, I made no rush to comply. I instead, went to the restroom. The restroom was as you’d expect it to be given my other descriptions to this point. There were paper towels littered on the floor. The bathroom lacked any characteristic, quality, or design that stood out. It was just…a bathroom. A place to piss, and a place to wash your hand. Nothing more, nothing less.
As I returned to the table, I settled down and decided to finally get my card to pay. I thought momentarily about saying something to a manager but decided “nah, no need”. So I paid and we left. When we got to the car I explained all of this and my feelings to Atalie. She was more or less indifferent to the situation, but I was pretty disappointed.
To mix things up, here’s a picture of us suffering now from food coma. That ramen broth really did us under.
Here’s my final commentary on this meal and experience.
Having been to Japan recently (my 2nd overall trip there), I now think of restaurants, meals, food, eating, and everything in between a little differently. I am appalled at the lack of experience when eating at restaurants these days. The meals themselves are not cheap. Exactly spending $55 for 2 people, for less than an hour is quite a nice amount of money to bring per head. It’s probably on par with what they’d need to maintain a healthy business. I understand that ramen shops like this need to turn tables and work a queue before it explodes. This should never come at the aggressiveness that was used with our waiter when he asked Atalie if she’d like for her food to be boxed while she was still very clearly eating.
For the amount of money being spent on today’s meal, I’d much rather take my business to places that care about their customer and put a much higher level of effort and care into their product. The experience that was created at Hokkaido Ramen Santouka was one of sloppiness, and passive-aggressive maneuvers to have us vacate our seats. Even if the food was spectacular, I’m afraid to say that the employees working here are not adding to the experience of their customer.
Uwajimaya coming up!