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What I Ate: August 18, 2009 (Banzai)

Posted 19 August, 2009 at 12:35am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Food, What I Ate)

Dinner: Tina and I had been craving ramen since yesterday, so we went to try Banzai (3914 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX‎ - (512) 323-2151‎) which has ramen on their menu. Now, when I say ramen, I don't mean that dried stuff in a cup (instant noodles). I mean the yellow wheat flour noodles that are slightly firm, slightly chewy, and slightly alkaline that has been prepared in a rich flavorful broth (usually pork and chicken based). Ramen was one of those foods that I made sure I had when I went to Japan (once in Osaka, once in Kyoto, once in Tokyo, and once in Yamamoto) and also had fairly often while living in California (my favorites were the shoyu ramen at Ringerhut and the ultra-rich ramen at Ramen Hulu). As far as we could tell, there's no ramen-ya in Austin, so we started looking around for Japanese restaurants that had ramen on their menu. So far, we've only found Banzai, but Peter Tsai has informed me that his friends recommend Kyoto which we'll have to try in the future.

Banzai is counter service - you order at the counter, pay, then take a seat and food is brought to you. I started the meal with an order of seaweed salad ($5).
Banzai - Seaweed Salad

We then had an order of gyoza ($5) which turned out to be green. I asked our server what made it green and she said she didn't know. Guess it wasn't one of those places where they know about the food they are serving - which means if we don't like the food, there's no point in complaining. The gyoza, as it turned out, was green because the wrapper was a "soybean shell" which I can only assume means it had some soybean in it (and wasn't completely made of soybean flour). The exterior was crispy (good) but the interior was mushy (not favorable). It also turned out to be vegetarian which completely took me by surprise. The menu does say: Gyoza six pan fried vegetarian dumplings, wrapped in a soybean shell but I was hungry and didn't actually read the menu when I ordered it. I just said, "you have gyoza? you must have gyoza - I'll have gyoza." The weirdest part about the vegetarian gyoza was that I tasted basil - that with the garlic taste made me feel like I was eating an Italian stuffed pasta dish and not a Japanese dumpling. The gyoza sauce it was paired with was also sweet and slightly spicy instead of salty and vinegary like I normally expect.
Banzai - Gyoza

Our ramen arrived (not much wait time, which is one nice thing about this place). Tina had the Shrimp Ramen (they didn't have your run of the mill shoyu ramen or tonkotsu ramen to choose from - just shrimp and tofu). The broth for the shrimp ramen tasted like miso soup. The ramen was flavorless. The egg was well prepared, but there was no nori, bamboo shoots, or chashu. Instead we had three shrimp, a few edamame, french cut beans, a couple mung bean sprouts, and baby spinach. The ramen was flavorless and I'm pretty sure it was simply cheap instant noodles (not the good stuff; but not as bad as Maruchan or Nissin). Of course, we couldn't expect them to be making their own noodles, but we had hoped they'd be flavorful and have the right texture.
Banzai - Shrimp Ramen

My ramen was the tofu ramen which had a weak vegetable broth. Soft tofu was included as well as the other toppings from the other ramen (excluding the shrimp). The noodles were the same, the broth was different, but not rich and hearty at all. Tina doesn't much like miso, so we ended up switching bowls.
Banzai - Tofu Ramen

At some point, I lost my appetite, but managed to finish the food and fill up on Sprite.

Lunch: Left over Chinese food.
Leftover Chinese Food

4 comments to What I Ate: August 18, 2009 (Banzai)

Nate, August 19th, 2009 at 12:46 am:

  • sorry you had such a bad experience. One would think that with enough Asian restaurants in a city, there would be a noodle factory in the area to supply fresh noodles.

Tina Jiang, August 19th, 2009 at 9:22 am:

  • We'll keep looking… I just bought the book "Takashi's Noodles" from Amazon.com and hopefully will be attempting to make authentic ramen for ourselves soon!

Shaun, August 24th, 2009 at 10:04 pm:

  • There's some sushi place called "Sushi Sake" up in Arboritum area. I had ramen there once, but I don't really know what real ramen tastes like, so I'll leave the judgement to you. It was definitely better than Nongshim instant noodles though.

Michael Chu, August 24th, 2009 at 11:13 pm:

  • Thanks for the tip - I haven't been able to find a website for them so I can't check the menu. Peter from The Tasting Buds has suggested Kyoto, but looking at their menu, I don't see ramen. At least now I have some leads.