I have some pretty big Q2 deadlines scattered between now and the end of the month, not to mention tasks for my wedding at the beginning of July. So, while I'll try to do a post every day or two until my Bachelor Party Series is done, please bear with me if I miss a posting date.
Click here to read my entire Bachelor Party Series.)
As adolescents growing up in Silicon Valley, journeying to San Francisco was a rite of passage for my friends and I. Although it wasn't far away, the pilgrimage up Highway 101 held an alluring excitement for our teenage selves. We saw the whole thing as a grand adventure. Pile too many people together in a car, often my beat up 1983 Nissan Sentra Datsun, make the trek northward, poke around the tchotchke and weapon shops in Chinatown, gorge on sundaes at Ghirardelli Square, get lunch and snacks in Japantown, and arrive back in suburbia before nightfall with our parents none the wiser.
(Rallying the troops.)
One of our regular stops in Japantown was Sapporo-ya, which purportedly specialized in Sapporo-style ramen. To our untrained palates, each steaming bowl of noodles and broth was an exotic gastronomic experience epitomizing the new frontiers we'd explored with our trailblazing spirits. Every slurp tasted of freedom. Even now, over a decade later, I get a thrill just walking through the doors.
(Ninjafuzz, Mr. Big, and The Oni)
Therefore, when Waldensian told me to pick a place in Japantown as the starting point for our San Francisco restaurant crawl, it wasn't hard for me to decide on Sapporo-ya. Here I was, back in our old stomping grounds with my high school and college pals. Just sitting in the ramen shop with them was enough to suffuse me with the same nervous anticipation I'd felt as a young lad who knew his parents would whip him within an inch of his life if they found out he'd driven to the city. I wasn't there for Sapporo-ya's ramen, I was there for the unique flavor of rebellious youth, an emotion I'd forgotten and would need if I was to make it through whatever bachelor party ordeals my friends had planned.
Sapporo-ya's claim to fame is its fresh, handmade, Japanese take on Chinese-style pulled noodles. As many ramen shops do, they advertise the authenticity of their product with a display in the front window. I've never really tasted a difference between their noodles and store bought, non-instant ramen. I've also never seen the machine in use. Some posters on Yelp have even suggested that the machine is just a display to fool tourists. While that may be the case, I've always given Sapporo-ya the benefit of the doubt. The machine really does look like it's put to regular use. There's even flour in the cracks between the floor and walls.
(A busy restaurant needs fast cooks.)
Service is fast and efficient, but definitely not friendly. I've been here lots of times, and there's always something about the wait staff that leaves me feeling cold. If you're not Japanese, even if you speak the language, you should look elsewhere for that highly vaunted Japanese sense of courtesy. They're not rude, but there's a definite brusqueness about them.
The ramen at Sapporo-ya is served in a clear Shoyu (Soy Sauce) and meat broth. The addition of different toppings and ingredients, such as kimchi or miso paste, provides a number of different flavor combinations to choose from. The soup usually benefits from both additional toppings and a little extra chili oil for kick. Plain, the broth is gentle with a mild sweetness, but lacking the strength to adequately season the noodles.
(Natto Ramen, my personal preference.)
In any bowl of ramen, the noodles should be the star attraction. Sapporo-ya's noodles are thick and plentiful, but too soft. They lack the slight chew and resiliency that make this ubiquitous Japanese dish so satisfying. While ramen with softer noodles is an authentic preparation, it leaves me longing for something I can really sink my teeth into.
(Chicken Katsu Curry. The rice was hard, the katsu breading was thin and soggy, and the curry was bland.)
For diners who don't want ramen, Sapporo-ya offers several alternative dishes, including Japanese curry, Okonomiyaki (Savory Pancake), and Yakisoba (Stir-fried Buckwheat Noodles). However, be forewarned. Ordering non-ramen dishes at a ramen shop is like ordering steak in a seafood restaurant. If you're lucky, the food will be decent at best. Suffice to say, few people tend to be that lucky.
Sapporo-ya - We really only went for the memories. If you're in Japantown for a visit, it's not a bad place to catch a quick bite, although expect tourist prices. Sadly, the quality fairly indicative of the ramen restaurants available up in NorCal.
Bill (Items pictured.)
Miso Ramen - 9.20
Natto Ramen - 12.00
Chicken Katsu Curry ~ 9.00
1581 Webster St., # 202
San Francisco, CA 94115