SAN JOSE, Calif.
I rarely visit a restaurant in its first official week of opening, but since I was in the South Bay already for a convention, I thought I’d swing by the new Jinya Ramen Bar in San Jose’s Westfield Oakridge Center.
In the ramen-obsessed Bay Area, it takes a lot of guts to open in a shopping mall. But Jinya is the established ramen chain from Tomonori Takahashi, originally from Japan but who started his Jinya empire in Studio City in the L.A.-area and have now expanded to 20 locations in the United States and Canada. San Jose is Jinya’s first Northern California location.
Of course being the first week, there was a wait. I got there early at 4 p.m. after my convention, and didn’t get seated until an hour later, which was fine because I wasn’t feeling hungry until I got to my seat. Since I was by myself, I sat at the small ramen bar counter. In fact, the restaurant is actually pretty small inside with only about 20 seats. Most of the tables are in the two covered patio, where there’s a large communal table with fire pit.
You can tell the staff is still finding its rhythm because when I sat down there were several tables that were empty, even though people outside were waiting. And the servers seemed a bit stressed. (While the host station will generally text you if you leave your phone number on the waitlist, they suspended that policy during opening week as they tried to keep up with the crowds.)
And even when I ordered, I had the same situation I experienced recently at another fairly new restaurant, and that’s a kitchen that tries to keep up with the crowds by cooking really fast and not paying attention to coursing out the dishes. So instead they’re making the orders as fast as they can, and then bringing everything you ordered to your table all at once.
So as I sat there with my starter, and two combination sides with my ramen, it was another night of eating everything simultaneously before they got cold.
Looking over the menu, you can tell that Takahashi has honed his menu to reflect the variety demanded by Americans, which means choices and combinations from ramen to starters, and rice bowls. One note about the ramen: Jinya serves thin or thick noodles, and that’s determined by the broth you get. You don’t get to choose the type of noodles you want as that’s determined by what goes best with the broth. No substitutions, the menu clearly states.
So what was in my parade of food? First I got the Jinya bun ($4.25 for one), which is a steamed bun stuffed with slow-braised pork chashu, the same ones in the ramen. But the chashu here is glazed with Jinya’s “special sauce” and stuffed with a slice of cucumber and baby mixed greens. The pork was nice and tender, but the addition of “kewpie mayonnaise” made it slippery to eat as the pork didn’t want to stay between the buns.
With my ramen, I ordered a combination for just $5.75 extra, which gave me a plate of Tokyo curry rice plate and a side of seaweed salad. I didn’t realize the curry rice plate would be the regular size, even when you order it as a combination with ramen. (When ordering by itself, you can get the rice bowls in regular or small portions.)
The Tokyo-style curry was exactly as I’m accustomed to, which means simple golden brown curry that’s mild and slightly sweet, with ground meat (they use ground chicken) served with rice.
Finally, for the ramen, there are 12 options, including four chicken ramen and two vegetarian bowls. I ordered the specialty Jinya Tonkotsu Black Ramen ($13), which is the rich pork broth that’s slightly darkened slightly by garlic oil. The bowl comes with two slices of pork chashu, kikurage, green onion, a seasoned egg, garlic chips, fried onion, spicy sauce and nori sheets. It’s served with thin ramen noodles.
I initially got an off scent of the noodles, which seemed like that flour smell you get from noodles that haven’t been rinsed well, an indication the kitchen is rushing too much. Still, the broth was delicious, albeit slightly sweet and not as spicy. But it was an interesting bowl, and the pork chashu was tender and tasty. Even looking at it, there were interesting specks of color that indicates the chashu are marinated in a special way to give it more flavoring than other ramen joints.
The one thing I wasn’t a fan of was the seasoned egg, which was more on the hard-boiled side and came whole (compared to most places that serves just half). I found a whole egg a bit too much.
The last bite
Jinya’s ramen is definitely intricate as demonstrated by the variety of toppings that automatically come with the noodles (of course you can add additional toppings for extra costs), but the other options and side dishes seem standard, almost formulaic. I guess you have to be for consistency in a chain, but that means what’s on the plate seem predictable and not unique. While I enjoyed my meal, I wouldn’t recommend waiting more than an hour or driving far to try it. It’s a solid option if you’re in the South Bay and want ramen after visiting the Cineplex.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Jinya Ramen Bar, 925 Blossom Hill Road (at the Westfield Oakridge Center), San Jose. PH: 408.281.9888. Open daily for lunch and dinner, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. jinya-ramenbar.com
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