Ramen City: Musashino

An ongoing exploration of Austin’s noodle soup of the moment
3407 Greystone Drive. 512-795-8593, www.musashinosuhi.com.
Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm Tue-Fri. Dinner 5:30-10pm Tue-Sun, until 10:30 Fri-Sat. Closed Mon.
Note: Ramen is available only during lunch.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 08.19.13
In the time before Ramen with a capital R came to Austin, there was Musashino doing ramen, the same way it was doing sushi before sushi was the thing to do.
Just plain old ramen was maybe too humble of a sell for the house-proud Texas crowd, and so we got a ramen of our very own. Texas Ramen ($10.75), with “BBQ” brisket and fried okra. The novelty of fried okra brought almost nothing to the bowl, because tempura vs. broth is one of those Bambi vs. Godzilla things, and the loser is a pulpy mess every time.
But the bean sprouts, for the love of La Choy, make the bean sprouts stop. They’re mostly what I tasted, with their dirt-water grassy snap interrupted only by a triad of searing chiles lurking in the morass. A morass created when I realized they’d forgotten the brisket, and my waitress encouraged me to root around in the bowl, “because sometimes they put it on the bottom.” Nope. But for my efforts she brought me three tired slices of BINO brisket. Barbecue In Name Only.
At least on this day, a bowl of tonkotsu ramen the size of Lord Vader’s helmet offered a new hope. Hope with a pricetag of $15.75 in these days of ramenomics gone wild.
The broth itself glowed as alabaster as the Other White Meat, a half-salted schlitterbahn for pickled ginger and scallions and nori’s fishy seaweed funk, plus the overboiled halves of an egg whose carbonite yolks rolled out like fat kids on floaties. But there was something else in there. Steak-sized pieces of pork belly, the biggest you’re likely to see in a bowl of ramen before you’d have to call it a pot roast gone for a swim, burnished brown outside and closer to barbecue than the brisket will ever be.
And with that long exhale, I pour out my frustration over Musashino, a restaurant I loved in the childless times of the mid-‘90s, when we ordered handrolls and coursed out sushi in marathon lounging sessions in a sake and Sapporo haze. Top 5 all day. But in the past year, on a scouting mission for my Fed Man 55 and again for this series, the balloon once so big and bright had lost some air. Not with a screech but with a tired exhale. Not even Top 55. Ragged rainbow rolls, despondent dumplings, disreputable ramen, antiseptic sashimi and other alliterations.
Restaurants are organic things. Like us, they change from day to day, year to year, and we’re left pining for better days. For both of us.
(TOP: The Musashino dining room, with a view of the sushi bar; pork tonkotsu ramen; rainbow roll. INSET: Texas ramen, before the missing brisket showed up. So many sprouts. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)