I’ve consumed buckets of noodles in Asian restaurants over the years, but I somehow missed out on the collegiate ramen regimen. Before heading to Kimura, chef Michael Sohocki’s ode to the slurping set, a training session with packaged products seemed only fair—in every way; though the noodles themselves were usually decent, the pre-fab, chemical-enhanced broths left much to be desired.
Then, it seemed necessary to revisit Tampopo, the glorious Japanese film from the ’80s about a failing noodle shop. Even if you consider yourself a black belt in ramen, it’s worth Googling “Tampopo—ramen master,” for the YouTube scene in which the noodle sensei instructs a neophyte on the properly reverential way to approach a bowl.
Kimura, which opened this summer, isn’t as relentlessly noodle-centric as the shop at the heart of Tampopo. But ramen mania, slow though it was to reach San Antonio, has been in the spotlight long enough nationally to expect that Kimura’s efforts will taste better than the packaged college staple. Before anyone leaps to the wrong conclusion, yes, they do.
The tonkotsu noodles in chicken and shoyu broth are a good place for all of us to start. Broth is a complex creature and the vessel of the soup’s essential umami; Kimura’s rendition was good but not exceptional, despite the earthiness of marinated shiitake mushrooms. As for the featured braised pork slices, Tampopo’s master is considered an “old fool” for his statements such as one suggesting apologizing to the slices by putting them to one side and saying “see you soon.” Exaggerated as that may have been, in this case the pork almost needed to apologize to us; its flavor appeared to have been given up to the braising liquid, leaving little for the slices themselves.
Then there’s the question of the soft- to mid-boiled egg. Much has been written about the proper cooking time (six to seven minutes), what, if anything, is added to the water … but most sources seem to think that the egg should be presented cut in half through the poles both to facilitate eating and to show the perfectly cooked yolk. It may sound like old-fool carping (and call into question chopstick skills) to complain about a whole egg, but that’s my complaint and I’m sticking to it. About the noodles themselves, I have no complaint at all.
The Kimura staff, all head-banded to look the part, initially started out making their own noodles but quickly discovered that it was a royal hassle to do them a-la-minute; the pre-portioned imported product is now pulled from a bin to be plunged into boiling water for each bowl. The same noodles appear in the miso ramen, a bowl I expected less of but liked better than the shoyu/chicken. (A version with pork bone broth that appeared early on seems to have been abandoned.) With a few shakes of seasoned togarashi chili flakes, this soup, enhanced with said egg, shiitakes, spring onions and bean sprouts, sings.
Kimura offers several dishes for non-ramen lovers as well. I was disappointed to learn that cold buckwheat noodles, a seeming no-brainer for San Antonio, had been 86’d due to production issues. We can go to most any Asian restaurant for gyoza dumplings, often called pot stickers. The ginger flavor of Kimura’s pork version was a wow! but the normally crusty-tender texture disappointed—there being almost no crust on our serving. The flavor and texture of a grilled octopus appetizer were both spot-on, but the plain, nicely charred bits need more support than a bed of undressed carrot shreds. The broiled unagi (eel) served as an entrée is well flavored, but sits unceremoniously atop a larger portion of white rice. It’s both hard to eat and needs more attention to the visual. The Japanese understand this as much as any culinary culture—if not more. Needing no garnish or other intervention was the excellent cucumber sunomono salad.
But then there’s the rice. Sushi apprentices in Japan study it for years before being allowed to touch fish, and though we don’t expect that here, we might be excused for wanting rice with firmer texture to support Kimura’s fine nigiri toppings. Grains of the liquid variety, i.e. liquor, are nicely curated in the form of Japanese beers, sake and inventive cocktails, like the Last Word with gin, Chartreuse and maraschino. One imagines the beverages pair well with Kimura’s late night limited menu, available from 10 p.m. to midnight.
The renovated space itself, once the launching point for Sandbar Fish House and then a bakery, has morphed into shades of brown—the better to set off a stylish mural and the truly handsome bar top and tables fashioned from charred pine that has been meticulously sanded and then clear-coated. Perhaps when staff has worked in the space long enough some of this aesthetic will wear off on the food. Until then, some repeat viewings of Tampopo wouldn’t hurt the kitchen either.
152 E Pecan,
Hours Lunch: 11-2 Mon-Fri; Dinner: 5:30-10 Mon-Sat; Late night menu: 10-midnight Mon-Sat Prices $10-$21
The Skinny Kimura is an homage to Japan by Restaurant Gwendolyn’s Michael Sohocki (who lived there for several years) and co-owner Jenn Wade after whose Japanese grandmother it’s named.
Best Bets Cucumber sunomono, miso ramen, Last Word cocktail