Taste Test: Santouka Irvine
The good news is the ramen at the newly opened Santouka inside the newly opened Mitsuwa Marketplace is identical to the venerable and always consistent Santouka in Mitsuwa's Costa Mesa store. The bad news is that the food court is half the size.
Actually, it's a stretch to call it a food court. What it is is just left over space they set aside from the market where there just happens to be chairs and a few tables. It is not more than a few square feet separated from the supermarket aisles by way of a low-slung wall.
I've already decided I'm going nowhere near it at lunchtime. Not only will I have to compete with other Santouka customers for the few seats there is, there are at least three other vendors there, including a takoyaki stand that hasn't yet opened.
But oh, the rewards are great if you decide to persevere. As at the Costa Mesa store, this is a soup that transcends soup. The elixir has so many layers, both figuratively and literally. The first layer is a melted, glimmering substrate of pork fat, insulator to the milky, sweet and rich super-broth beneath. The fat fulfills a dual purpose: it keeps the soup hot throughout your slurps, and to the still-chewy noodles you lift out of the bowl, it coats the strands in flavor, acting like lubricant that hastens the next mouthful.
The rest of the bowl is just as immaculately arranged in the same two-toned vessels as those of its predecessor: bamboo shoots snap noisily, the pork is tender, cut generously thick; but it's that broth that'll sustain you, invade your senses and make you very, very happy. Every sip of it seems like a meal in and of itself.
Santouka, 14230 Culver Dr., Irvine, CA 92604
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