Until recently, the stretch of Washington Boulevard that spills into Venice Pier was best known for beer, burgers and scantily clad tourists. Thanks to the arrival of chef-driven restaurants such as Leona and Charcoal, the Venice/Marina del Rey border has become far more interesting, at least when it comes to food. The latest addition is Venice Ramen, a restaurant with an innocuous and straightforward name but a strong base of technique and tradition.
Venice Ramen is located in Marina Connection, a two-story strip mall about a half mile from the pier, next to an Alka-Water shop. The space features a high ceiling, white walls, nine red tables and six seats at a stainless-steel counter. A low wall divides the dining room from an open kitchen, where chef-owner Hideki Mochizuki cooks in sync to soft jazz. A poster depicts bustling Shibuya, the Tokyo neighborhood where Mochizuki debuted his first ramen parlor, Ramen Hide, in 1994. He now runs four Tokyo ramen restaurants and added Venice Ramen to his portfolio in March.
The menu is highly focused, with just a handful of dishes listed on a single page. Tokyo tonkotsu ramen ($10) features a cloudy pork broth that takes more than 24 hours to craft. The broth is by no means as rich as at joints like Tsujita, where the broth coagulates when left untouched, but the porky liquid still balms your lips. Thin-sliced scallions, crunchy fermented bamboo shoots, an intentionally cooked-through egg and two slices of chashu help complement house-made noodles that deliver beautiful chew. If you’re looking to bolster your bowl, get your ramen topped with chopped cabbage or order it “spicy,” topped with a scoop of togarashi, chile oil and other secrets.
The chef is particularly proud of his chashu. Each bowl of ramen receives two slices of lean but fat-rimmed roasted pork thigh, as tradition dictates. Other restaurants substitute shoulder or belly, which Mochizuki will tell you just isn't the same.
Chuka soba ($10) is the other ramen option at the moment. Flatter, crimped noodles fill a clearer pork broth that’s cut with soy sauce and delivers a peppery finish. The same toppings — chashu, green onions, bamboo shoots and egg — join the fray.
Sides are substantial, too. A quintet of gyoza ($7.50) sports thin skins and contains pork and minced vegetables like cabbage. Each order comes with two sauces. Dip each dumpling into a tangy mix of soy and vinegar, or rain fire on your tongue in the form of an oily chile sauce with chopped garlic and sesame seeds. Kakuni ($5) involves striated slabs of braised pork belly; the lush cubes luxuriate in soy-based sauce flecked with ginger strands. Each side comes with steamed white rice, but if you order kakuni as part of a ramen combo, you’ll just get meat and scallions.
Soon enough, Venice Ramen will add tori soba (chicken ramen) and tanmen (vegetable ramen with pork-based soup) to its repertoire, which no doubt will appeal to health-conscious Westsiders. In the meantime, the full-flavored offerings are making a convincing Japanese statement.
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Venice Ramen, 515 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey; (310) 448-8886.