SANTA CLARA, Calif.
One of the highly anticipated restaurant openings for 2014 is the San Francisco outpost of the popular Orenchi Ramen. But having two Orenchi’s in the Bay Area probably won’t reduce the crowds.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about and instead of waiting for Orenchi to open in its planned Mission location, I decided to make the drive to Santa Clara last week during the holidays. I met up with some friends who live in the area, and we got there at 10:45 a.m. before the 11:30 a.m. opening and there were already a few people gathering.
What’s nice about Orenchi’s check in is that they have a sign-up sheet, which they put out way before they officially open its doors, so that helps alleviate the potential arguments about who came first in line. Still, by the time the doors open, there was a near mob scene at the entrance, and even though the efficient servers were calling names from the sign-up sheet, people still crowded into the tiny front alcove area to wait for their names to be called.
Orenchi is drawing the crowds on its reputation for its tonkotsu broth, the ramen soup of slow-simmered pork bones that have been all the rave in the last two years. If a new ramen shop opens without serving tonkotsu, you can bet it won’t get much buzz.
Orenchi also has a popular tsukemen or dipping noodles ($12) – which they limit to 15 orders during service – but this is typically served when the weather is warm and Orenchi didn’t offer this when I was there last week. Instead, they had a special ramen broth that’s a combination of the popular tonkotsu broth and miso (ore no miso, $12), with only 20 servings available.
The ore no miso was definitely a rich pork broth, but the miso did give it a bit more of a salty flavor. Still, the broth was full of body and very comforting. The toppings were pretty standard with corn, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts – except for the scoop of nikomiso, a kind of minced meat with spicy miso paste.
The ramen noodles itself were good but maybe a tad overcooked for my taste. They lacked a bit of spring or chew I like in my ramen. My friends had other ramen like the shio or regular tonkotsu broths, and they all came out looking rustic with common ingredients like shredded cabbage for greens.
I commented that the appearance didn’t seem as fancy as other ramen places around the bay, and my friend Sylvia (who has lived in Japan) reminded me that ramen is really an everyday dish that’s the perfect cure for a night out of drinking. With that in mind, then Orenchi’s ramen hits the spot.
Side note: Orenchi is currently closed for the holidays and will reopen on Monday, Jan. 6.
The Last Bite
Orenchi offers up a variety of izakaya dishes like agedashi tofu or karaage (fried chicken), but everyone mostly comes for the ramen. The team at Orenchi, both in the front and back of the house, work quickly to serve up the many bowls but wait can still be between 45 minutes to 2 hours at peak times. I expect that to be the case at the new San Francisco location as well.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Road, Santa Clara, Calif. PH: 408.246.2955. Open lunch, Tue.–Sun., 11:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.; dinner, Tue.–Thu., 6–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat., 5:30–9:30 p.m., and Sun., 5–8:30 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.orenchi-ramen.com
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