I heard that the widely renowned Ippudo was going to be making an appearance at the Japanese Gourmet Foods Fair which was taking place one weekend at the Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa. Long waits and delicious ramen have become synonymous with Ippudo in NYC, but each time I’ve been back, I’ve never been tempted enough to endure the potential 45-60 min wait. I was also skeptical of how good a $14 bowl of ramen could possibly be. Nevertheless, the opportunity to finally try this Hakata-style ramen without the wait seemed so fortuitous that despite my sister’s insistence that it would be crowded and they would run out of food, I couldn’t NOT go…. so we did.
The market tends to be pretty crowded on a normal weekend, and it was no surprise that it was even more crowded with the presence of the food fair. However, given the crowds that I’ve endured at other food festivals, this one seemed pretty tame… although, my brother did get in a tiff with some lady as we were all hunting for a place to sit down.
Anyways, we had 2 orders of Special Ramen to share between H.o.P. The broth is a little heavier and creamier than most other ramen broths, but there is a nice rich in pork flavor to it. The noodles are slightly al dente which I like. The ramen is topped with the usual suspects, pork chashu , tree ear mushroom, seaweed and green onions. It was a pretty good tasting bowl of ramen, but I’m not sure I could tell exactly what made it any more special than other ramens. Admittedly, the broth is very flavorful and probably the best part of the ramen…. but I actually found it to be just a tad bit salty. Maybe there was something lost in transportation….
There were a handful of stalls and stands selling other Japanese treats. One stand had all sorts of fish cakes… squid fish cakes, carrot fish cakes, and vegetable fish cakes. I was so intrigued by the different varieties of fish cakes, so I ended up ordering a couple of different ones to try. None of them were really that good. In fact, the best one was the plain old cod fish cake. It tasted normal. The other ones were a little odd tasting, but at the same time, it was hard to distinguish between them.
The one thing that everyone at the fair seemed to be eating was the Takoyaki balls which are a popular Japanese snack. It’s ball of batter with diced or whole baby octopus baked inside and tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, green laver (aonori), and katsuobushi (fish shavings), and green onions sprinkled on top. There is also a mix of okonomiyaki sauce, ponzu, and Kewpie mayonnaise drizzled over everything. Although it looks really good, and in concept, it sounds really interesting, I’ve never really enjoyed these octopus batter balls. Often times, the octopus is not chopped small enough, so it tastes really chewy. In this case, the octopus was a good size, but then all the sauces and toppings were just too overwhelming to the taste buds. I didn’t like it too much.
All in all, we left feeling pretty stuffed and satisfied. The ramen was good, and it was a change of pace from our usual lunch meals when I come home to visit. Normally, it’s straight to Little Saigon for some Pho, but in this case, we had ramen instead. It was a nice outing for the day.