The enchanting aroma of long-simmered broth wafted from the bowl as my server gently placed the steaming ramen before me. Perhaps I was rude, but I had lifted my spoon as soon as I saw her approaching my table, and I barely said “thank you” before dipping into the shoyu.
I love ramen, so it’s a good time in Wine Country for me right now. Suddenly, ramen and other Japanese soups are in high fashion here, with new noodle shops opening at a healthy clip. Ippinn Udon & Tempura in Santa Rosa, for example. Otoro Sushi in Healdsburg. Qimura in Windsor. Bluefish Sushi & Grill in Santa Rosa and Izakaya Kitaru in Petaluma.
Then, there’s Miso Good Ramen on 4th Street in downtown Santa Rosa. Open for a year now in the narrow, two-story space that previously was home to Torch of India, the Japanese concept is a welcome addition, offering the usual suspects of sushi, rice bowls and small plates like a very good sunomono salad tumbled with a generous amount of shrimp and octopus ($8).
No surprise, though, Miso’s signature is ramen, in six varieties that can be further customized with 22 add-ins. Want bamboo shoots ($1.50), shimeji mushrooms ($1.50), karaage chicken ($3) or shrimp ($2)? They’re yours for the asking.
My go-to is the Tokyo shoyu, brimming with two thick slices of soy-braised chasu pork belly, a 6-minute egg, bok choy, bean sprouts, a crispy sheet of seaweed, tender greens and onion in chicken and pork broth ($12 lunch/$13 dinner). The pork is succulent in its soy braise, while the broth is rich and feels good in the mouth with its silky umami.
Soft shell crab paitan ($16/$17) is a seasonal standout, well worth exploring. The breaded, fried seafood adds a sweet note to the opaque shoyu broth, rounded out with chasu pork, greens, wood ear mushrooms, egg, fried onion, seaweed and a spike of garlic.
Miso vegetarian ramen ($12/$13) is another great choice, intriguing with its slightly sour fermented soy bean broth dolloped Sapporo-style with glorious butter and bobbing with okra, corn, bean sprouts, greens, bok choy, shimeji mushrooms, garlic, purple onion and seaweed. I add tofu ($1.50) and egg ($1.50), and it’s a hearty meal.
Other ramens are more standard, bringing combos of shrimp and chicken ($15/$16), spicy ground pork paitan ($12/$13) and chicken in creamy chicken paitan broth ($15/$16). For a while, by the way, that “creamy” was literal, since the Miso Good cooks used to add heavy cream to some of the broths. That’s since been nixed, my server explained, allowing the clean flavors to shine. Now they’re all traditional broths started at very high heat so the fat and bones emulsify into that wonderful mouth-coating natural gelatin.
The only downside to the soups: I’m not thrilled with the noodles. The skinny strands come from a purveyor in San Jose, and currently, Miso Good is using just one kind — which reminds me of everyday packaged — for all its soups. Later this summer, the kitchen will be testing different styles, however, including a thicker noodle served cold.
In the meantime, there’s still plenty to enjoy at this quiet, unassuming shop. The décor is pleasant, with gray walls framed by raw wood shelves stacked with pretty pottery, ocean-inspired art, succulents and lots of sake bottles. Service is quick and quiet, and prices are reasonable.
Secret Life of Mrs. London Author Appearances
March 8: Copperfields Books Montgomery Village, 775 Village Court, Santa Rosa. 6:30 p.m. Special appearance by magician Frank Balzerak, and Houdini-London nibbles by Worth Our Weight and visual presentation.
March 15: Readers Books, 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 6:30 p.m. Special appearance by magician Frank Balzerak, Houdini-London nibbles by Worth Our Weight and visual presentation.
March 17: Breathless Winery, Healdsburg, 499 Moore Lane. 1-4 p.m. Magician Frank Balzerak, Houdini-London nibbles by Worth Our Weight, visual presentation and book signing.
March 26: Aqus Café, 189 H St., Petaluma. 7 p.m.