We had arrived. K and I had finally stepped into the realm of ramen houses. Though K may be still of a rookie when it comes to ramen profiles, I’ve been eating and scouting for decent piping hot noodles for some time. Usually, I completely fail at finding anything noteworthy in all of Southeast Michigan, which unfortunately includes my trial-by-error endeavors in Ann Arbor and Metro. But here is a place, Johnny Noodle King, which may be fast tracking Detroit to a decent hub of ramen cuisine. Though to be fully honest I don’t think we are collectively there quite yet. But for myself and K, it was exactly what we wanted in the moment and we left fully satisfied and warm from our miniature feast. And though the design of the place wasn’t quite curated to a soothing ambiance, the sunny windows and aerodynamic booths did remedy our wanton tranquility.
Out first came our Seaweed Salad and Inari Bun. The salad was light and acted almost part palette cleanser. It didn’t have the intrigue or exploratory nature of some other seaweed dishes I’ve eaten and it most certainly didn’t have a spicy or invigorating approach that some regional Asian versions have. In K’s opinion it would do better coming out mid meal or at the same time as our ramen. With just a bit of crunch and flaky bits on top, this salad was a nice warm-up for our upcoming dishes. The Inari Bun was a petite sandwich of perfection. It may have been a bit sticky for K and the contours of the plating didn’t fully juxtapose the bun in the way I think they had hoped it would have – but I thought the flavors were truly spot on.
When taking into account an Americana palette, I thought they did a really good job, finding the balance between traditional recipes and ones that may be more westernized. The flavors were warming, wholesome and lip-smackingly refreshing. This time we just had water but in the past we’ve had some fun drinks – among which hot tea, cold coffee and draft Sapporo all were pleasantly appropriate, but they do offer some craft cocktails as well.
Then finally, the much anticipated bowls – Champon and their sauced Gong Bao arrived. One major warning to our strict vegetarians, they do not, I repeat they do not have vegetarian stock water, unless you order their Veggie Miso. K and I have never been big fans of miso soups nor have we ever liked udon dishes or cold noodles that much, so we made a necessary compromise to get that thick and creamy stock we were searching for – we got a pork stock. Now before you fall over and make accusations of hypocrisy in our names. Let us please come to an understanding. These dishes are meat stock based. That is what they are, that is what ramen stock is, across almost every traditional recipe. You can do mushroom stock, take on a miso reworking, or do a vegetable and soy sauce approach but the stimulating, tummy rubbing goodness you get from traditional ramen dishes isn’t derived from a vegetarian background. Ask Momofuku in New York or any of the culinary complexities in Toronto or even the scrumptious streets of Taipei and you’ll find the same skeletal conclusion. Now that being said, we did however make a substitution of beef or chicken chunks to tofu, of which they executed very well.
The Champon came complete with cabbage, soft boiled egg, a dollop of chili paste, black mushroom, and of course some bean sprouts and scallions. It was in many respects a righteous mix of simplicity. I wasn’t entirely sure if the black mushrooms were black fungus or some other trumpeted version but either way the dish was delicious. And our Gong Bao was actually a tad unexpected. As it had very large chunks of substituted tofu in an extra saucy mixture of chili powder and halved peanuts. Its default accompaniment was wide rice noodles but you have the choice to swap for jasmine rice. We kept to the default as it made an amusing contrasted texture to our ramen.
Be it for just a beer and a few Inari Buns at the bar or a full entrée sized smorgasbord by the windows, Johnny Noodle King is making some strong strides to amplify our ramen game here in Detroit.
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