The Dish List: Meiji Seimen

Courtesy of Kendrick Wang

Courtesy of Kendrick Wang

What: Meiji Seimen

Where: 1113 Baker Street, Costa Mesa, 92626

How Much: $7-15

Hours:

  • Tue-Fri 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
  • Tue-Thu, Sun 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
  • Fri-Sat 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
  • Sat-Sun 12 p.m.-2:30 p.m.

Rating: 4/5

Tucked away in a small strip mall on Baker Street in Costa Mesa sits four-month-old Meiji Seimen, a Japanese restaurant seemingly overlooked by the hundreds of cars that pass by  each day. The nondescript shop is adorned by a plain white sign with two sets of text: the name of the restaurant, written in kanji, and the words “Japanese Restaurant” accompanying below. It is easy to drive past, as I did.

Stepping into the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was a nearby table of six elderly Japanese gentlemen finishing their meal — definitely a good sign. The seating area is quite small, with only six small tables to accompany a few bar seats. The restaurant itself is designed with a traditional look with wooden slats lining the walls, dim lighting and a sushi bar with its glass display, covered by a large tattersall towel.

We sat down and started going over the menus.  Thankfully, each item had pictures, but we still had trouble deciphering some of the more uncommon appetizers such as Kinpira Burdock, Tuna & Tororo and Takowasa. After Googling a few unfamiliar food items, we settled on a satisfying assortment; we ordered Baked Shiitake Mushrooms with Parmesan and Mayo alongside Tuna & Tororo, which turned out to be Japanese yam. For entrées, I opted for the Shabu Beef Udon, while my friends got the Curry Bowl and Salt Ramen.

First came the Baked Shiitake Mushrooms. The wrinkly mushrooms came with a sprinkle of parmesan atop a dab of mayo, artfully broiled to yellow brown perfection. The fleshy, unseasoned mushrooms were quite flavorful with an earthy taste, while the combination of broiled parmesan and mayo provided an exciting pairing between the two.

The Tuna & Tororo arrived in a tiny white bowl, filled with bright red, diced and raw tuna chunks and a white yam paste. The tuna was notably fresh and tasty, but I found the yam to be bland and flavorless, making the dish underwhelming.

The entrées were served atop lacquered trays, each accompanied by its personalized utensil and condiment. My meal was placed into a deep bowl, with udon noodles submerged in the translucent brown broth and topped liberally with fatty slices of beef. The browns and beiges of the soup were broken up by a bright green heap of delicately sliced green onion and a single slice of hot pink and white fishcake.

The broth itself was light and flavorful, but the noodles really stole the show. Wonderfully textured and cooked to al dente perfection, the hand-pulled noodles had just the right amount of bite. The chewy beef pieces had just a hint of sweetness from the fat, and dipping them into the ponzu sauce brought even more umami goodness. The green onions, shaved to slivers, provided a nice freshness in the dish. While pricey for udon ($12), I was very impressed.

The Salt Ramen was served with a shaker of white pepper and a deeper soup spoon. This serving bowl was much shallower and had a flared lip, more suitable for its thinner wheat noodles, which were cooked slightly past al dente. Along with the noodles were slices of fatty pork, bamboo shoots, a seaweed square and that same heap of green onions. The bamboo shoots were surprisingly sweet and tasty. At $7, it’s a light and refreshing alternative for those looking for a less oily bowl of ramen.

The curry was served with a small dish of fukujinzuke (crunchy red pickles) and a small metal spoon. The first thing I noted was its size, with the portion size not much bigger than my fist. Its stocky bowl contained a hill of white rice, topped with slices of beef and a slow dripping pool of curry. It was full-flavored and strong; the meat, tender and soft. At $5, it was a good price for a tasty meal, but the portions might be a little small for those of us with larger appetites.

What really made this restaurant stand out for me were the small details that showed that extra bit of thought put into each dish. The Shabu Udon alone is worth a trip to Costa Mesa, as well as the inevitable drive-by and U-turn that will have to happen.