Ramen City: Daruma Ramen

An ongoing exploration of Austin’s noodle soup of the moment
Daruma Ramen
612-B E. Sixth St. 512-369-3897, www.darumaramen.com.
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm and 5:30-10pm. Sat 11:30am-10pm.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.12.13
To walk into Daruma Ramen is to appreciate what East Sixth could be if it weren’t carrying the weight of Austin’s nightlife on its grimy shoulders. A boutique space with polished wooden wallboards and floral wallpaper in clean black and white. Seating on brushed steel stools along chest-high polished white rails. Wooden boxes of chopsticks, napkins and slurping spoons close at hand. Communal tables with people bowing over their bowls like tributes.
Credit Kayo Asazu for bringing Daruma to life in April, playing Barbie to the shop’s namesake Zen doll. It’s an extension of Komé, the Japanese restaurant she runs with her husband, Také Asazu, across town on Airport Boulevard. They make ramen at Komé, too, a milky tonkotsu style with pork broth. Read about Komé here, but this is Daruma’s moment.
Transparency is the key here. Transparency in the process as you watch the cooks dip wooden handled baskets in and out of the steam, pulling up bok choy and noodles alive with exhaled heat. Clarity in the bowls themselves, drawing primarily from that refined goldenrod-colored stock, laying a clear canvas for the gathered bowl of boiled egg, bamboo shoots, fish cake, bok choy, spring onion and more, each bowl according to its style: The baseline Shio ($9) with clear broth, the more robust Miso ($9.50) with red pepper and sesame, a vegetable ramen ($12.50) like fragrant garden stew.
Shoyu Ramen ($9) was a deep tawny broth painting flavors of fish stock, soy and anchovy oil over the mellow watercolor saltiness of the chicken stock. Pickled bamboo shoots brought acidity and sweetness, with scallions for a little sting and a soft coin of fishcake called naruto for bouncy alien texture. A soft-boiled egg (aji-tamago) marinated in soy kept just enough of its liquid yolk in reserve to add a golden protein jolt.
The noodles came to the bowl springy and firm in formless tangled masses, curly but not cornrowed, content to be carriers of seafood and polite saltiness. The noodles and their mates were collectively more interesting than the medallions of chicken thigh holding court where pork usually rules. In the chicken’s defense, it wore a nice layer of fat, but the meat didn’t carry its share of the flavor and textural burden, even in this otherwise balanced bowl.
My experience with a fried mashed potato croquette ($2.50) bade me to stick with the ramen, tasting mostly of the fryer oil and sweet sauce. Other sides include chicken wings, salad and rice balls with dried fish. There’s Asahi beer on draft and hot or cold sake. Enlarge the experience with a kid-sized cone of tall, swirled soft-serve ice cream ($3.50). The flavors rotate, whipsawing from wasabi to sriracha or a mellow plum shiso that faded up slowly from a light dry soft-focus to full-bloom floral, like a cinematic memory of a Japanese summer long ago.
(TOP: Shoyu ramen with roasted chicken, boiled egg, pickled bamboo shoots, scallions, bok choy and naruto. INSET: The Drauma website credits Richard Weiss for the interior design and Brian David Johnson for the chopstick holders and wooden signwork. The little dolls are called Daruma, named for a founder of Zen Buddhism. Soft-serve ice cream flavors might include a mellow plum shiso. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)