San Jose Welcomes Northern California’s First Jinya Ramen Bar
Broths made with Fuji water for purity of flavor, and simmered for 10 hours. Noodles aged for three days in-house. Plus a modern spin on ingredient combinations.
That’s what Jinya Ramen Bar is all about.
With more than 20 locations in the United States and Canada, the first Northern California one opened in February at Westfield Oakridge Center in San Jose. A second Bay Area outpost, this one in Pleasanton, is expected to open shortly.
Japanese restaurateur Tomonori Takahashi opened the first Jinya, which is named for a Samurai soldier, in Studio City in 2010.
Husband-and-wife team Alan Vu and Tracy Than own and operate the San Jose one. The former Silicon Valley engineers are franchise veterans, having owned Mrs. Fields cookies and Popeyes chicken ones in the past. Ramen is decidedly harder, they told me when I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant recently, because of the larger, more complex menu.
The kitchen takes up much of the indoor space, with small tables centered around it. Two outdoor seating areas, one of them covered, expands the restaurant’s capabilities.
There are plenty of small plates to choose from along with the ramen. We started with Brussels sprouts tempura ($6.85). The menu says it’s made with white truffle oil, though, it’s not detectable. But then again, white truffle oil is overused as it is these days. The tempura coating is not that crisp, probably owing to the fact that the Brussels sprouts are in large pieces. If you think of the broccoli florets you get in a mix of tempura at a Japanese restaurant, you’ll recall they’re the least crisp of the veggies in the assortment. That’s the texture of these sprouts. So, if you’re longing for potato chip-like fried leaves of Brussels sprouts, this is not that.
The Jinya bun ($4.50 for one) caresses a thick slab of juicy pork belly, cucumber, special sauce and Kewpie mayonnaise. It’s everything you want in a pork bun.
The takoyaki ($7.99) was recommended by our server, and I’m so glad we took his suggestion because these are addicting. Battered octopus balls arrive golden brown with a flourish of smoked bonito flakes all over the plate. The balls are custardy soft inside. They are also an umami bomb, owing to all the dried fish flakes. What makes this dish more fun is that the balls are balanced on dollops of egg salad. It may seem like a disparate combination, but it works. The creamy, chunky egg salad plays the same role as Kewpie mayonnaise would, adding a flourish of richness that emboldens the whole dish.
The crispy chicken ($6.50 for five pieces) is done exceptionally well — with a very crisp, airy coating that’s seasoned with garlic and pepper. Now, this is finger-licking-good chicken.
From there, it was on to the main attraction — ramen, of course. My husband went for the Spicy Chicken Ramen ($12), requesting “spicy,” the medium level of heat. It was plenty spicy, too. Made with chicken broth, this ramen bowl comes adorned with sliced chicken breast, spicy bean sprouts, and green onions. He added a poached egg (an extra $1.50) to the tangle of skinny noodles. The broth is already spicy, but there’s a slick of chili paste on top to stir in if you want even more heat. By the end of the meal, I could see perspiration building on his brow.
I went for the Sprouting Up Ramen ($12.50), which is a definitely California-influenced bowl, what with the charred Brussels sprouts leaves floating in the broth, which added a nice smokiness and cabbage-y flavor. A mix of pork and chicken broths, this wasn’t as over-the-top fatty, porky tasting, which is kind of nice when you want something a little lighter. The addition of fresh ginger to the broth made it taste a little like a Chinese soup. The slices of pork chashu were succulent with a layer of glistening fat in the middle. Wood ear mushrooms, spicy bean sprouts, half an egg and green onions garnished this bowl, which featured thicker noodles. I actually preferred the thicker ones to the thinner ones my husband had, because they had more chewiness and springiness to them.
For dessert, there’s panna cotta, which is not something you see everyday at a ramen joint, either. Served in a glass with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, it may be a little denser in texture, not quite the wiggly-jiggly ideal, but it’s a sweet, cooling, and satisfying way to douse the fire of a spicy bowl of noodles.
Jinya Ramen — welcome to the neighborhood.
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