I recently got a tip from a reader about a new’ish ramen place in Bloomington. Ramen is big in our family and so we were glad of the news. While there is good ramen to be had in Minneapolis and St. Paul, it’s would be very nice to have some a bit closer to us. And so on Saturday we showed up at Itton Ramen with a couple of the friends we often eat out with. As I also like to support small restaurants, I would love to tell you that we found it to be an unsung gem. But, alas, that was not our experience. While the meal, on the whole, was not bad per se, it was more than a little underwhelming on most counts. Herewith, the details.
Itton Ramen is located a few doors down from Hyderabad Indian Grill in that strip mall anchored by Fresh Thyme at the intersection of Penn Ave. and American Blvd. They’ve been open for almost three months now, the gent who took our order said. We got there just a little after they opened on Saturday and found an attractive restaurant. The dining room is large and features a few four-tops, one large communal table in the center, and lots of counter seats wrapping around most of the restaurant. Wherever you are sitting, you grab a menu and once you’ve figured out what you want, you order it at the counter. When it’s ready it’s brought out to you.
We were four adults and two ramen-positive kids and so managed to sample a good chunk of the menu. We started with some appetizers. The pork gyoza (six to an order) were tasty. However, the chicken karaage disappointed, coming in looking and tasting more like chicken nuggets. This particularly stung as we’d got two orders, expecting the kids would devour one on their own. As it happened, the adults had to help finish both orders. Better than the chicken karaage was the version with squid tentacles (a special on the day). The two other starters we liked better: the agedashi tofu (crisp-fried tofu with bonito flakes sitting on a pool of soy-based sauce) and the takoyaki (battered and fried balls stuffed with minced octopus; five to an order).
And so to the ramen. Between the six of us we tried five of the six varieties on offer. One of our friends and the younger boy got the spicy miso ramen. This was probably the best of the lot, though to my palate it seemed closer to tantanmen than spicy miso ramens I’ve had in the past. The older boy got the classic chicken ramen and this was rather blah. The missus got the classic tonkotsu ramen; she thought it was better but nothing very special; I agreed. One of our friends got the mazemen (broth-less cold ramen with ground pork etc.); this was decent enough as well. I got the tsukemen or dipping ramen—the noodles and toppings are served separate from the broth, which is meant to be a very rich iteration of the tonkotsu broth. You dip the noodles in the thick broth and eat them. This was just about okay—the broth was not as intense as I was expecting and the noodles were nothing to write home about. This last was true of all the noodles in all the bowls. And there doesn’t seem to be an option with the tsukemen to get hot water to dilute the remaining broth and down it. They were very busy by this point and so I didn’t get up to ask.
A few sodas rounded out our order.
For a look at the restaurant, the menu and what we ate, click on a picture below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down for thoughts on service and to see how much it all cost.
There’s not much to the service as other than bringing you your food there’s nothing else the servers do—you get your own drinks and water. The food came out pretty quickly—but another problem we had was that none of our ramen broths were very hot; and they got lukewarm pretty fast.
Cost? With tax and tip, the total came to almost $170. The boys were essentially adult diners at this meal and so the per head price was about $21/head. Not too bad in the abstract but it felt a bit high for the quality. Perhaps we would not have thought so if we hadn’t recently had exponentially better ramen in Los Angeles for just about the same price. But you don’t have to compare it to ramen in Los Angeles to find it lacking; there’s much better ramen to be found in the Twin Cities metro (though we did like it much more than the ramen at Masu in Apple Valley). That said, if I lived close by in Bloomington, I could see myself stopping in for the occasional bowl in the winter. But driving 35 minutes as we do, we would prefer to drive just a little bit longer and get some better bowls or drive a shorter distance to Pho Tempo in Burnsville to satisfy noodle soup cravings in a different way. We are probably outliers though: they clearly seem to be quite popular with locals—the restaurant had got quite busy by the time we finished our meal.
At the time this posts I will be landing in Seoul. I will be there for a week. I’m sure I’ll have a few Seoul food reports for you from this brief trip but those won’t land this week. Instead, I’ll be posting the last two reports from Southern California in December and one more Delhi report.
I love ramen, but our scene in Minnesota just isn’t good. I’d say the best is Ramen Kazama, Zen Box and Tori Ramen, but I haven’t had any of them in years. There have been a lot of new shops opening up recently and upon some investigation, some of them seem to be the same company with a different name. I’m not sure how true it is but Icchido, Zen-Ramen (Maplewood), and Haiku (Woodbury) all seem to have the same menu and do not overlap in location. Kyu Ramen just opened up in Eagan, but I was not a big fan, same with Ramen Kawae at the North Loop Galley. Ramen Shoten (owners of Zen Box) just opened at Eat Street Crossing and at first glance it seems they’ve taken a page from Tori Ramen and are currently doing primarily chicken broth, but I’m not sure if it was just for this current menu or ongoing.
Yes. Hope springs eternal, though—and hence this Itton Ramen visit.
We did think Ichiddo Ramen on University Ave. in St. Paul was much better than Itton Ramen. Though that location became Ishita Ramen and I’m not sure if my review from five years ago better applies to the current Ichiddo Ramen or Ishita ramen.
Yes, I am still hoping the ramen scene gets better here. I just looked at Ishita Ramen menu and it’s still the same as Icchido and the others that I mentioned, they probably just changed the name. Itton Ramen looked different enough but one of my friends wasn’t impressed by it so I decided not to try it either. I appreciate your review and photos though!