Editors' pick

Sakuramen

Asian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

Sakuramen in Adams Morgan
By Nevin Martell
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ramen is the new hamburger. About a year ago, it seemed as if a burger joint was opening every few weeks. Noodle shops have begun appearing with almost equal frequency. Ren’s Ramen and Toki Underground kickstarted the craze, and Adams Morgan basement ramen joint Sakuramen got into the game in late May.

Sakura is the Japanese word for “cherry blossom,” so one mural features delicate petals floating alongside curling, noodle- mimicking white and gray lines. The shop is the creation of first-time restaurateurs and second-generation Korean Americans Jonathan Cho, 40, of Alexandria, and co-owner and brother-in-law Jay Park, 35, who lives in Adams Morgan. Cho generally handles front-of-the-house duties, while Park oversees the kitchen. They developed the menu -- which is all available for takeout -- along with Cho’s wife, MyungEun Cho.

Make a beeline for the steamed Chashu Buns ($7), one of four appetizers on the menu. They are filled with slow- roasted Berkshire pork belly bolstered by a marinade of hoisin, fish sauce, sugary mirin rice wine, sake and a bit of caramelizing brown sugar. Scallion circles scattered on top add a fresh counterpoint to the fat-ribboned meat. In an effort to enhance the flavor of the gyoza ($8), the pork dumplings are graced with a few threads of red chili pepper, which don’t add any punch. Furthermore, the crimped half-moons are flash- griddled all too briefly, leaving the dough faintly translucent, slightly undercooked and underwhelming.

Half a dozen ramen choices are available; each takes about 10 minutes to prep. To avoid sogginess, the broth and noodles are packaged in one container and the toppings come separate. The DC Miso ($12) boasts a fragrant and flavorful broth that makes for great slurping between bites of thick, curly noodles made by premier noodlemaker Sun Noodle of Teterboro, N.J.

However, the whole proposition is ruined by shredded Monterey Jack cheese. This unorthodox addition was inspired by friends who were veterans. They told the co-owners their favorite comfort food while stationed overseas was a cup of ramen with a slice of American cheese melted on top.

The Shoki Bowl ($15) is lactose-free, so the succulent strips of some of that chashu pork as well as beef bulgogi can shine unhindered. For extra heat, add a fireball ($1), a gumball-size meteorite of a dozen dried, ground hot peppers, including some from Cho’s mother’s garden, held together with garlic oil. There’s a cooling iced green tea ($4) to fall back on.