Ramen City: Michi Ramen

 
 
An ongoing exploration of Austin’s noodle soup of the moment
 
Michi Ramen
6519 N. Lamar Blvd. 512-386-1908, www.michiramen.com.
Hours: 11am-2pm and 5pm-midnight Tue-Sun. Closed Mon.
 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.25.13
 
I’ve seen the inside of the Michi Ramen building before it was Michi, when it was a Japanese tapas bar called Afin. That place tried to salvage the big, barren space by painting it midnight blue, which turned it from stark store-room to dark store-room. It’s better just painted white, which is about as far as Michi has gotten in the way of decor. The bar looks like the one your stepdad had in his converted basement, flanked by storage, just a counter to hide that part of the wall where the soda fountains and coffee machine sit. To its credit, Michi has added a tap wall with six respectable beers at $5 a pint. There’s something about ramen’s sauna persona that calls for a cold beer.
 
Michi began its life as a trailer, and this spare environment gives it a trailer flare still, minus the direct sunlight. They seem to be trusting their futures to what’s in the bowl. And it’s a fair-sized bet, one of the biggest bowls of ramen in this series.
 
Michi offers six varieties ($7.50-$10.50), some with shoyu, some with miso, some with lemongrass, one of them cold and all of them with roasted pork except for the veggie bowl. Their flagship Michi bowl starts with a broth you can order light, regular or stout. I’ve had stout and regular and couldn’t appreciate the differences fully. Both carry the dark complexion of soy, and its strong, salty flavor dominates the broth, leaving only its silky oil character to speak for the pork from which it came.
 
The noodles are the sturdy sort, long waves with springy tensile strength. They’re a neutral foundation for the roasted seaweed, scallions, woodear mushrooms and roasted pork that hover over them. I added fishcakes (kamaboko) and marinated bamboo shoots (menma) for color and texture at 50 cents each, though the fishcakes’ flavor-free plasticine bounce argued against them in the future. Seaweed and mushrooms add their alternative surf and turf notes in proper balance, and a sheen of a black garlic oil called mayu makes its own lagoon of flavor until the bowl inevitably dissolves into the commune of ramen.
 
 
Michi does a good job with roasted pork. It’s more than a protein cipher ready to absorb whatever character the bowl’s willing to give. These three generous slices carried some color from the cooktop, a little salt and fat to speed them along. A side dish of “burnt ends” amplified that asset, bringing cubes of pork sauteed with onions and soy, enough meat to provision three or four bowls of soup, an Atkins dinner in an overflowing bowl for $4. But the brisket people called. They’d like for you to stop saying “burnt ends.”
 
Two people I told about Michi thought the place had closed. I can see why. The exterior of the flat-roofed block of a building looks like it’s in that real estate purgatory between “Now Open” and “Now Leasing.” Grass grows like refugees in abandoned planter beds, and a boardwalk from another life shambles past the front doors like a splintered derelict. Aesthetically, it’s a step down from the trailer. The food inside deserves a better ambassador outside.
 
(TOP: Michi Ramen’s signature bowl of ramen, with added fishcakes and bamboo shoots. INSET: Michi’s “burnt ends.” Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)