The Unvegan

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Japan Meets Italy at Ramen Yamadaya

My, what yellow ramen you have.

Not too long ago (at least it feels that way), a new ramen place popped up in Culver City calling itself Ramen Yamadaya. It was around this time that I had been totally spoiled by the ramen of Tsujita, and while Yamadaya looked good, I wasn’t exactly in a rush to get there. This was a mistake, though, because when I finally got there, I had a feeling that this was going to be my go-to ramen joint.

You’d be crazy not to get the free garlic. Don’t be crazy.

Now, the ramen on the menu was pretty much what you would expect, with your good old tonkotsu, chashu and whatnot. The biggest surprise on the menu was the tsukemen, but otherwise it was pretty much business as usual. But before I go any further, business as usual is not a bad thing. There is really a limit to what you can realistically do to ramen to get creative, so it usually just comes down to quality. But with this in mind, I saw that Yamadaya had a special called Cheese Ramen. That’s right, they found a way to cheese up one of the last bastions of food that still hadn’t been cheesed. For better or worse, I knew I had to try it, especially upon reading that they only made 30 bowls of the stuff a day.

You’re probably wondering what cheese was used for this and the answer is parmesan, hence the title of this review. But not only that, they also threw corn and parsley into the mix. For an extra three bucks, I opted to make this a combo with some kara-age (Japanese fried) chicken and steamed rice.

A step up from Lawson’s.

The kara-age popped out first and looked delicious. Yamadaya surprised me by actually delivering five pieces instead of the four mentioned on the menu, so I was already excited when I got to work eating. On the other hand, the kara-age also came with a mini cabbage salad that made me unhappy, but it didn’t get in the way of the meat. The meat, by the way, had a nice crunchiness on the outside and juiciness on the inside, exactly what you would want from kara-age. It made for a nice warmup, but I used to live on kara-age in Japan and knew what to expect, with my main course I had no idea what I was getting into.

They weren’t kidding about the cheese.

It arrived with what looked like a giant afro of parmesan shavings on top that brought back memories of my old hairstyle. I got to stirring and as the cheese started to melt into the broth, I finally caught sight of some pork and noodles. Digging in, I didn’t find the flavor of the cheese to be too prominent, but it was clearly there and unavoidable. The broth was pretty basic, so I added both fresh garlic and garlic chips, then some chili paste. This turned the broth a delicious orange color that I was pretty happy with. The noodles were thick, which isn’t typically my preference, but they were good so I wasn’t too upset. As I got deeper into the bowl, though, I found the broth getting way too cheesy. It seemed that pretty much all of the parm had sunk to the bottom and became a huge glob of corn and cheese. This wasn’t an ideal situation, but I had pretty much signed up for this when ordering something called Cheese Ramen.

But while not ideal, I am definitely glad I tried out that crazy ramen. For one, the taste of the broth at the top of the bowl told me this was a ramen place worth revisiting. For two, any place willing to take risks with a dish that sometimes gets stale is a winner in my mind. Cheese Ramen may not be a perfect combination, but the thought that went into crafting it certainly meant something to me. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back, for while the taste wasn’t quite at the level of Tsujita, I know I’ll be able to hit up Yamadaya whenever I want and not have to worry about waiting in a crazy line. Plus, it’s not like I’d be settling, because Yamadaya is still nothing to complain about.