These days, it seems that all the good food is coming to University Town Center. Following the most recent addition of Chipotle, Yushoken Izakaya & Ramen stands to be the latest heavyweight to the culinary arena of UC Irvine’s across-the-bridge food destination.
Replacing Asia Noodle Cafe, whose business was presumably not doing well, Yushoken complements its sister restaurant Gatten Sushi over in Campus Plaza, completing Yukinari Yamamoto’s duo of Japanese restaurants. Yamamoto, the president of Gatten Sushi USA, capitalized on the void left behind by Asia Noodle Cafe, saying that opening an Irvine branch of the Arcadia-based Yushoken was a good idea because of the availability of real estate.
Highlighted as one of two recommended ramen selections on the Yushoken menu, the shio tonkotsu ramen is a must-try that ultimately fails to live up to its recommendation. Representing a hybrid broth of sorts, the addition of ground pork bones (tonkotsu) to the traditional salt-based broth (shio) produces a light-yellow broth with a cloudy, almost milk-like, consistency. The collagen from the the pork bones appears as globs of gelatin gleaming on the broth’s surface. The entire affair results in a broth that is delicate, balanced and not overly salty like singularly shio broths.
The dish itself is spare with its toppings. Bean sprouts and chopped scallions sit atop the noodles, joined by a single sheet of nori and a hardboiled egg. The egg, usually marinated in soy sauce and a savory treat in itself, is without flavor and adds little to the dish. Likewise, the two slices of barbecue pork (chashu) that provide the ramen’s protein are equally unnoteworthy. For little over a dollar more, an order of the chashu ramen adds three more slices of pork over the same broth.
Although Yushoken’s main draw is its ramen, the Irvine’s location designates itself as an izakaya, serving food to complement alcohol consumption. Now that Steelhead is gone, Yushoken is the only place in UTC that holds a liquor license, offering Ozeki sake in addition to Kirin beer. Dwarfing the four options of ramen is Yushoken’s variety of sakana, food that is meant to accompany alcohol. The closest point of reference is tapas, although sakana are generally larger and meant to be shared.
The takoyaki, lightly fried and battered balls consisting mainly of batter, diced squid and green onions, come in orders of five and are an easy starting point for delving into the rest of the appetizer selection. Unmemorable flavors seem to be a recurring trend with Yushoken, though, as the takoyaki’s filling was not flavorful. The flavor roles of the takoyaki seem to have been inverted, with the mayo and ponzu sauces overpowering the snacks themselves. The Yushoken fries are an interesting attempt at crossing culinary boundaries. No more than glorified cheese fries with a garlic mayo spread, the fries are too starchy and will induce regret halfway through the meal.
Operating in soft opening mode for almost over a month now, Yushoken stands to improve greatly before its grand opening in the next month. Regardless, the novelty and convenience of providing a viable ramen option in UTC will no doubt carry Yushoken’s success. Early adopters can opt for a free serving of noodles during the soft opening. For veterans seeking something more substantive when it comes to ramen, however, a short drive to Costa Mesa’s Santouka will prove more worthwhile.