On Oct. 1, Jinya in Studio City and Robata Jinya in West Hollywood will debut a limited-availability menu item: lobster ramen. It’s the latest experiment in founder Tomo Takahashi’s attempt to elevate ramen to something worthy of luxury ingredients. Last year, Takahashi debuted a truffle ramen, and there are more bowls with high-end ingredients in the works.
Through a translator, Takahashi told me, “People assume ramen is cheap and fast. But it has so much more potential. We’d like to change the image of ramen in people’s minds.”
Takahashi uses the original Jinya in Studio City as a test kitchen of sorts, rolling out new dishes there and gauging their potential for popularity in other locations. He begins conservatively and then decides, based on customer excitement, whether to take the dish national or international (there are Jinya locations across the United States and also in Canada). For instance, he rolled out the “cha cha cha” ramen — a thick, garlic-heavy bowl — believing it would be a limited-time special. “We thought it would mainly appeal to our Japanese customers, “ Takahashi says. “It has such a heavy flavor. But it turned out that Americans loved it, too. It’s one of our most popular dishes.”
Takahashi spends about three or four months developing each new dish. He travels the country looking for ideas, and goes back to Japan at least once every two months to keep an eye on the trends there. When asked if luxury ramen is a trend in Japan, he says, “In Japan they mainly stick to the traditional idea of ramen. It’s not so common to see lobster or truffle.”
For the lobster ramen, Takahashi takes Jinya's tonkotsu pork–based broth and adds a broth made from lobster and shrimp. Into that goes thick noodles, Brussels sprouts, green onion and an egg. It’s topped with lobster and shrimp wontons. The bowl costs $18.
For the time being, only 10 bowls of lobster ramen will be available at the two locations each day. But if L.A. loves it, that love could end up spreading to other locations, carrying Takahashi’s message of elevated ramen on its spiny back.