Name of restaurant: Kanpai Ramen
Concept: A tasty new ramen endeavor in a Glendale strip mall, expanding on the preexisting izakaya/roll sushi restaurant Sushi GP. GP is officially closed, but Kanpai seems to have swallowed it whole, incorporating its menu and grafting on the titular ramen. The GP side encompasses a whole lot of corny Asian fusion that is actually quite satisfying, but Kanpai’s ramen is the real draw. It deserves top billing -- while the non-ramen menu is decent, the tonkotsu ramen is delicious and almost stunningly ambitious.
What dish represents the restaurant, and why? The tomato ramen is the ringer here, a hefty bowl of noodle soup that starts with a tonkotsu pork broth and layers it over with shoyu and tomato ("special soy sauce" and "special tomato sauce," if that means anything to you). It sounds like it could be awful, and it doesn't help when the server compares the whole thing to spaghetti marinara. The broth is in fact a complex, interesting thing that is, at base, very familiar. Tonkotsu broth is a serious undertaking, and it's almost surprising that a kitchen with as much variety as Kanpai's decided to bother. The broth is lovely, with that unmistakable silky texture that comes from boiling pork bones over long periods of time. The tomato variation is rich with a sweet acidic edge, and the bowl runneth over with umami. The noodles aren't the main draw, but they're perfectly serviceable. They get topped with boiled egg, dried seaweed, scallions, bamboo and tomato, along with a tender slab of chashu pork.
Runner ups: The tonkotsu spicy ramen is also excellent, losing out the top spot to rarity alone. You can make any ramen a combo with a small salad and a rice bowl, and these rice bowls are great. The chashu bowl is a safe bet, but I’d especially recommend the Kanpai bowl with ground pork and scrambled egg over rice. If you’re in the mood for California sushi, I like the Alba All Over (spicy albacore with seared albacore and special sauce) and the Red Brick (good old spicy tuna over crispy rice, with slivers of jalapeño and avocado).
Who's at the next table? A man, two women and a little girl on a Monday night family dinner outing of some sort. They seem pretty content.
Appropriate for: Casual meals where atmosphere is not of chief concern. Also -- whenever the ramen craving strikes in Glendale. I’m not aware of a better option in this part of town.
Uh-oh: If you fetishize authenticity, Kanpai may not be for you. The place is not exactly straight from Japan, and it suffers from a rambling menu and disunity of image. It would be a shame, though, to miss out on great ramen on such petty grounds.
Service: Attentive and friendly. Small staff, but big enough to handle all customers with smiling ease.
What are you drinking? A cold bottle of Sapporo, poured into a chilled glass. A little complimentary bottle of Yakult (a sweet, tangy yogurt drink, for digestion, I assume) with the check.
Info: Kanpai Ramen, 1023 E Colorado St., Suite D-1, Glendale, (818) 956-5550.