Everybody Loves Ramen

Sakuratani Ramen & Izakaya introduces Japanese small plates to the East Bay


With all the foodier-than-thou attitudes floating around, it’s important to remember that ignorance is bliss. In my book, the first time you eat something entirely new – and delicious – is far more compelling than an endless search for the best of something. So I was delighted to see some new life in Bristol’s restaurant scene with Sakuratani. I was more excited still that it was Ramen and Izakaya. Finally, I was over the moon to see a Japanese soda called Ramune on the menu.

Yes, it’s just soda. In Japan, Ramune is as recognizable as a can of Coca-Cola, but to anyone new to it, the bottle is a mixture of a sculpture and a puzzle. Opening this little bottle was one of the highlights of my weekend. It’s my second-ever bottle, and I can’t do the process justice, but the top of the bottle becomes an opener, which you drive down through a hole in the cap, dislodging a glass marble. It’s a superfluous joy. The ball is then trapped in a compartment in the bottleneck, rolling delightfully at every sip and collecting bubbles. If you don’t enjoy this process like a child, you can’t be helped. The soda itself, you ask? Oh yeah, it’s delicious, less sweet than an American soda and flaunting unusual flavors. I went with lychee, and it was wonderful.

The restaurant’s bones are definitely American rather than Japanese, with large booths, large aisles, and large TVs. What really ties the room together is the giant custom mural along the entirety of the wall. It depicts a woman taking in the aroma of a fresh bowl of ramen, the noodles spilling out into an ocean and becoming waves engulfing a house. I didn’t find my Tonkotsu Ramen ($16) to be a tsunami of flavor, but this is no slight. This pork ramen was far gentler than that. Silky and balanced as a base, it crackled with ginger, which is a wel- come different take to my other go-to RI ramens. I’m happy to report I won’t always have to drive to Providence for Ramen any longer.

Now to the Izakaya, which is roughly translated as “pub.” Izakaya is meant to be a slow, boozy experience in its native environment. Instead, we were there at 4pm on the nose with a small child rattling around the marble in my empty soda. I liked the pace of the meal, with the little Izakaya dishes coming out in deliberate waves, so that everything was hot and there wasn’t much waiting, and the ramen came at the end as the main dish. Izakaya is even more fun with friends. Our small party ordered the Pork Belly Buns, Torimune, Nasu, Aspara, Enoki Bacon Maki, Gyu Kushi with Salt, and a house salad.

Most dishes are around $3 to $4, and are “yakitori” – skewered and grilled. It’s not about complexity here, but instead a parade of different little snacks enjoyed over time. The Gyu Kushi, for instance, is just a sliced salted skirt steak, the Torimune just a sliced grilled chicken breast. The Enoki Bacon Maki is just hundreds of fine enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, and that’s just perfect. There are distinct Japanese flavors everywhere, some more striking, like the bonito flakes atop the asparagus tips.

Last was a Sweet Spring Roll, filled with red bean cheese, and the matcha ice cream. The spring roll was the dessert equivalent of an Americanized sushi roll: half Japanese, with the red bean, and half American, with something like cream cheese. The matcha ice cream goes down like a treat, thanks to the fact that the Japanese make the world’s best small spoons. Not that we got to use the spoon much for the ice cream; our child has a taste for new flavors.

Sakuratani Ramen & Izakaya