ON chilly nights it's easy to see just why bowls were invented and why it is that human hands naturally conform to the curves of a ramen vessel.
Plain or fancy, these
noodles warm you up
Here are two houses offering the right antidote for cold weather. One is unassuming and local in flavor, the other is about as "yupscale" as ramen can be, with a location close to Ala Moana Center and Christmas shopping:
THIS simple, family-run operation serves up satisfyingly rich bowls of Curry Vegetables ($5.50) and Mabo Tofu ($5.95) over thick, chewy Sun noodles. Flimsy noodles from instant ramen packages cannot compare.
In the case of the latter dish, the broth is so thick and flavorful that it barely registers that there's less pork in the dish than most Chinese restaurants would serve.
The menu also encompasses fried noodles, such as Seafood Yakisoba ($6.75) with fresh shrimp, tender scallops, squid and plenty of won bok and onions. Hot Sauce Yakisoba ($5.50) was stir-fried with pork, vegetables, and wasn't hot at all.
Side dishes are four ($2.25) or six ($3.25) pieces of pan-fried gyoza. For a quarter more, you can have the gyoza deep-fried.You can order Crispy Noodles ($5.75-$6.75) too, but these are difficult to eat without having them splay in your mouth to puncture the insides of your cheek.
You can get a small price break every day of the week. For instance, you get 10 percent off on meals after 5 p.m. Mondays. Keiki ages 2 to 10 eat free when dining in with an adult spending $7.50 or more Tuesdays and Sundays.
Tai Sei: 800 S. Beretania St.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
Prices: About $6 to $8 per person
WHERE Tai Sei is every inch casual, Goma Ichi is a fine Japanese noodle shop entered through towering (and heavy) glass doors. The decor is spare, with marble table tops and leather seat cushions, all of which might appear somewhat frigid if not for the cozy feeling sparked by earth-colored ceramic bowls full of steaming ramen.
Here, you have a choice of Shoyu or Tan Tan (Szechuan-style) Ramen. Both have a base of chicken broth, but of the two, the tan tan -- spicy and tinged with sesame oil -- is the more intriguing. Sip slowly lest bits of pepper lodge in your throat. You'll pay slightly more for all this flavor. For example, Shoyu Ramen topped with char siu is $5.95. The tan tan version is $6.50. The char siu is a meltingly tender version of roast pork, not the firm, sweetened Chinese-style pork.
Tonkatsu ($6.25 shoyu/$6.75 tan tan), seafood ($7/$7.50) and vegetables ($5.55 shoyu) are other choices. Wash it down with Asahi or Kirin.
There are no fried noodle dishes to detract from the ramen, only side dishes of gyoza ($3.95 for four pieces) and Bon Bon Ji ($4.95), a red pepper-imbued Japan version of cold ginger chicken.
Gomachi: 631 Keeaumoku St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:15 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; the same Fridays and Saturdays except closing at 11 p.m.; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:15 to 9 p.m. Sundays
Prices: About $7 to $9 per person
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
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-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.