There's a new ramen joint on the Westside. Only this one isn't located anywhere near Sawtelle Japantown, with its concentration of well-regarded Japanese eateries. Instead, Venice Ramen has quietly opened in a strip mall on the border of Venice and Marina del Rey, blocks away from the ocean.
The restaurant is the brainchild of Hideki Mochizuki, a chef and restaurateur with four noodle shops in Tokyo, the first of which, Ramen Hide (not to be confused with Hide-Chan Ramen, an unrelated chain in Japan), he opened in 1994. His most recent restaurant in Japan, Ramen Shibu-Hide, opened in the Shibuya section of Tokyo in 2009.
So what made the 23-year veteran of the Tokyo ramen scene decide to open shop in Venice of all places? "I did not want to open in Torrance, where there are many Japanese people," said Mochizuki, as translated by one of his waitstaff. He also did not consider Sawtelle or Little Tokyo. "I wanted to open in Venice so I could have more American customers and show them my style of ramen."
His style, for the most part, skews more old-school. For instance, he explains that the hanjuku ajitsuke tamago (soft-boiled seasoned egg) that many ramen enthusiasts use as a litmus test for quality ramen, is not generally found in classic preparations. And he reasons that hard-boiled eggs actually work better with his pork bone-based tonkotsu ramen, so he stews his eggs in a shoyu (soy sauce) mixture for many hours.
His philosophy is to make everything himself, if possible. In addition to the seasoned eggs, the chef also makes his own menma, cutting fresh bamboo into flat wedges before drying and fermenting, and then rehydrating and slicing them into strips before using them as a topping on his ramen.
Mochizuki also makes his own noodles in-house, in two styles: thin, straight, and low moisture for his tonkotsu; thicker, wavy, and higher moisture for his chuka soba, a "Chinese-style" ramen with a clear shoyu base. The result is a very al dente noodle for the former dish, and a softer, more bouncy noodle for the latter.
Making everything from scratch is a lot of extra work, but for Mochizuki it signals a return to his roots: one shop, one chef. While he still owns the four shops in Tokyo and will still return to Japan on occasion to check in, his goal is to put out the best ramen he's ever made here in Los Angeles. He also has no plans to expand beyond this one Venice location.
Venice Ramen is open with a small, but focused menu, offering both spicy and mild versions of its tonkotsu ramen, the chuka soba, and tanmen — a vegetable ramen (not to be confused with tantanmen) that is not fully vegetarian as it still uses a pork-based soup. A chicken-based tori soba is also in the works. Non-noodle dishes include pan-fried gyoza dumplings and kakuni don, pork belly braised in a sweet ginger-soy sauce, served on top of rice.
Venice Ramen is open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
515 Washington Blvd, Marina Del Rey, (310) 448-8886.