S21 Sushi and Sake Bar
Full disclosure: I’m a picky eater. Chronologically, I’m 33. My appetite stalled somewhere around the age of 12. Chicken fingers? Yes, please. Grilled cheese? I’ll have seconds. Traditional Japanese ramen? I’d like to be excused from the table. Yeah, that’s how limited my culinary interests are. My adult mind knows that my kid appetite needs to mature, but it’s a slow process. When my friend Josh mentioned that he wanted to try ramen (and not the “Top” variety) a couple of weeks ago, I figured it was as good a time as any to encourage my appetite to grow up.
On a Thursday night, we embarked on our ramen quest: one of us excited (he), the other anxious (she). With only a couple of Yelp reviews and an address to go on, we arrived at a ramen restaurant at First and Bullard only to find it closed, despite what the Internet told us. A second ramen spot in the same shopping center saved the night, and a few minutes later we sat down inside S21 Sushi and Sake Bar prepared to try something new. Here’s how the experience went from both sides of the table.
Ramen – Tonkotsu (Pork bone broth, chashu pork, broiled egg, bamboo, bean sprouts, green onions and fishcake)
Review – What is this? What is this huge bowl of milky broth, with toppings and garnishes floating in designated neighborhoods? Where is the packet of ninety-percent pure sodium and the brick of dried curly noodles? And what the hell is that disc with the pink swirl?
This, I’ve been told, is ramen. Real ramen. Noodles not served in “just-add-water” packets but swimming beneath a fatty, almost creamy pork stock.
Gripping the chopsticks like a novice, I dig in and find the hidden noodles, grab as big a stick-full as I can manage and take a bite. I taste the distinct lack of salt; instead, a full meaty flavor, hearty, and layered. A far cry from the thin, sharp character of Maruchan. The accompaniments mix in, continually imparting their flavor on the broth and sneaking in small bites onto the noodles: carmelized green onions, bean sprouts, seaweed, other Unidentified Floating Objects. I don’t care what it is, it’s all good. But there’s a downside to this discovery: I may never be able to return to the five minute stove-top variety now that I have tasted what is, indeed, Real Ramen.
[P.S. Don’t Fear The Fishcake]
Rating – 5 out of 5 fishcakes
Ramen – Yakiniku (Soy sauce broth, Korean bulgogi beef, bamboo, bean sprouts, green onions, fishcake)
Review – Although I tried to accept the dish without modification, I asked the waitress to hold the egg. The fishcake I kept, because omitting it would’ve taken something away from the experience. With that said, after Josh ate his I asked him to take the pink-swirled fish patty out of my bowl as well. I never had any intention of actually eating it. After carefully considering all the elements in my bowl, each neatly compartmentalized, which I loved, I took my first timid bite…using chopsticks, no less.
The slurping and splashing aside, it was delicious. I took another bite to be sure, and didn’t stop from there, sticking mostly to the vegetables, noodles and broth. I tried a few pieces of beef and it was pretty harmless to my childlike sensibilities (read: flavorless and well-cooked), but I ended up leaving most of it in the bowl when I was done. I left a fair amount of broth in the bowl, too. But only because I was full. The noodles, however, were gone, baby, gone. And, while I wasn’t quite sure I could see myself sitting down to a bowl of ramen on a regular basis when I left the restaurant that night, I found myself craving it the next day.
Rating – 4 out of 5 fishcakes
If you want to have your own ramen experience, check out S21 Sushi and Sake Bar (5754 N First St, Fresno; Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4:30-9 p.m. and Sunday 12-9 p.m.)