Shizuma Ramen: Warm, Safe and Tasty

I discovered Shizuma Ramen on one of those dark, rainy nights a few weeks ago.

It was one of those nights where the steam rises from the sewers, where sirens can be heard rushing off to some rainy-day accident, where you could almost hear some faceless man playing his saxophone in an alley beneath a neon light. It was cold, wet and lonely. I drove into the dark, searching for something that only a ramen restaurant could provide. After a short drive down Barranca, I found Shizuma.

I stepped out of the rain and into the restaurant, where I ordered “tonkotsu chashu” ramen. While waiting for my order, I took stock of the restaurant’s surroundings. I found out that it opened just recently, in July. The restaurant is situated very close to the OC-staple Layer Cake Bakery, as well as the ever-popular Pho Bac. The interior is warm and friendly, with contemporary Japanese prints on the walls and a large television tuned to the Food Network, as if scenes of Giada’s cooking would entice customers to order more food. Unfortunately, my food-induced hypnosis was interrupted with the swift arrival of my food.

Tonkotsu broth is made from boiling pork bones and other delicious things in a large pot for a very long time. My expectations for this soup were high: Fountain Valley’s Shinsengumi makes outstanding ramen with this broth, and it was to this standard that I held my order. Shizuma’s tonkotsu broth was mildly sweet and milky, but with an almost excessively light body. Grilled shallots were added to the broth, but the amount of flavor they imparted was negligible. In the end, this broth’s lack of body, especially when compared to Shinsengumi’s robust offering, meant it fell just short of my expectations.

Slightly disappointed, I took my first bite of the noodles. Good ramen noodles should boast a slight bite to them and soak up flavor well while never being limp and soggy. Here, Shizuma did not disappoint. Although the noodles did not soak up much flavor, their texture and firmness made up for that. I was very happy to see Shizuma avoided the usual pitfall of using sub-par instant noodles.

I was satisfied for the remainder of my meal. The broth was decent and the noodles firm. The included slices of pork chashu had just enough fat on them to impart flavor, and the other toppings did not detract from the meal. However, upon finishing, I felt that something was missing from my meal.

Walking into any ramen restaurant should definitely evoke some strong feelings and associations, especially on a rainy night. If you were to walk into Little Tokyo’s famous Daikokuya, its decor would make you feel like you really were walking around a neo-noir fantasy.

If you were to walk into the Fountain Valley standby of Shinsengumi, you would probably feel oddly at home amidst the plywood lunch counter and zealously loud staff. And walking out of these restaurants would definitely satisfy your hunger with a delicious, steaming hot bowl of ramen to stay warm when it’s wet outside.

Safe is definitely the word I’d use to describe this restaurant as a whole. The ramen itself did not disappoint, yet it didn’t challenge or inspire me either. The only threatening thing about this restaurant was the charge for tea.

Shizuma was safe. But had I found what I needed? On that rainy night, all I needed was a hot bowl of ramen to make me happy. So yes, I did . When I need to satisfy a simple ramen craving without leaving Irvine, I’ll definitely give Shizuma another visit, but it’s good to know that, should I ever want more, ramen greatness lies just down the 405 freeway.