Ever since the September 2012 debut of Ramen Tatsu-ya, Austin has been booming as a ramen town. Charming newcomer Daruma Ramen is the third dedicated shop to open locally, and is located Downtown, across from Jim-Jim's Water-Ice. Sister restaurant to Airport Boulevard's beloved Komé Sushi Kitchen, Daruma's name references traditional Japanese wishing dolls, whose predominant red, black, and white features are reflected in the Richard Weiss interior design. The cozy-but-modern 28-seat restaurant packs in the patrons and puts a new twist on an ancient dish.
Daruma eschews the usual creamy pork broth in favor of a fresh-daily house-made chicken broth. The lightness and clarity of the broth is refreshing, and likely a healthy alternative to its darker, more intensely flavorful cousin, lending a much different experience. The eggless, partially tapioca-based chijire-style (squiggly) noodles were delightful, and a perfect match for Daruma's delicate spin on modern ramen. In three bowls, the layers of good flavor are simple and silky: the customary aji tamago (soft-boiled egg) pairs with grilled chicken, various veggies, and unique toppings. The fourth option is a creative vegan ramen, the broth derived from veggies and fruit. Notably, no add-ons are available. The summer special menu includes a Boggy Creek Farm-sourced tomato ramen and two flavors of hiyashi chuka (cold noodles), available for takeout.
My ramen-slurping buddy and I chose the Shoyu Ramen ($9), the classic plus seafood stock and accoutrements; and Miso Ramen ($9.50), the original with added homemade miso-tare, or fermented soybean sauce, and ra-yu, or hot chili-infused oil, plus toppings, and the latter was the resounding favorite. We also noshed some Daruma chicken wings ($5.50) and onigiri okaka ($2.50), triangular plain rice ball wrapped in dried seaweed, or nori, and filled with bonito flake. Both were fine, but paled in comparison to the wonderful croquettes ($2.50): a potato korokke, perfectly battered and served fresh from the deep fryer, filled with creamy mashed potatoes, and accented with peas, carrots, and corn, and drizzled with katsu (think Japanese barbecue sauce). A chilled, unfiltered Nigori sake paced our meal, which concluded with the delicious monthly rotating soft-serve ice cream flavor: Plum & Shiso, a sweet and salty combo with herbal notes.
Every dish was as fresh as promised, the service was quick and knowledgeable, and prices are reasonable. Though I wished for an optional beni shoga (pickled ginger) bomb in my ramen, the gentle, clean comfort of a bowl of Japanese chicken noodle paired with the belly-warming, delicious croquettes guarantee a return.
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