Bet you didn’t know this: the original ramen noodle was made in China, and instant ramen didn’t appear until a Taiwanese-Japanese inventor developed it in 1958. Japanese cuisine has since co-opted ramen, and in a recent poll, Japanese citizens voted it as the country’s “best 20th-century invention.”
Though I’m not a noodle nerd, it’s clear that it didn’t take long for packaged ramen to make its way into supermarkets and dorm rooms around the world. Restaurants serving revved-up ramen as a stand-alone soup are an even more recent phenomenon, both in Japan and the U.S. Compared to other stateside cities, San Antonio was late to the party, until chef Michael Sohocki introduced the dish at Kimura in 2013.
More ramen joints followed, including Sohocki’s Kimura location at Freight on S. Flores, but the restaurant at Cherrity Bar — a business whose profits go to a variety of worthy causes — has since been taken over by Ernie Bradley, a Kimura and Gwendolyn alumnus, and renamed Kuriya (Japanese for “kitchen”). Housed in a pair of renovated historic cottages, surrounded by decks and an occasionally raucous outdoor setting, Kuriya could hardly be less like the compact downtown original. Add an izakaya-type menu with diverse small plates, and it’s a little surprising that the ramen focus survives intact. And yet it does.
Kuriya’s simplest ramen option is vegetarian, and the complexity ramps up from there with chicken bone broth, chicken with ground pork, pork bone broth with ginger pork and a pork bone broth with pork belly. Seduced by the sound of spicy shoga yaki, I picked the pork bone plus shoyu. It was a brawl in a bowl, and I loved it.
The shoga yaki, a pork cutlet traditionally fried with ginger, soy, mirin and sake, was pleasantly sweet, yet its sliced form didn’t dominate the soup. The mirin-soy pickled egg yolk melted in a lusty, spice box-scented broth — ribbons of carrot and rings of scallion added freshness and crunch while slim slices of house-pickled ginger gave vibrancy — and perfectly partnered with kinky wheat noodles.
Those same noodles formed the yakisoba base, stir-fried with carrots, caramelized onions, ginger, cabbage, spicy mayo and chicken with actual grill marks — with an option to add pork cuts or grilled vegetables and kosho. I had to google kosho, and it was worth it. The versatile sauce, made with Yuzu citrus and fermented with salt and red bird chilies, gave an added tang.
Guests sitting in the bar-side cherry red booths may be visited by Sakura, the restaurant’s resident cat. She came with the property, and her name means “cherry blossom” in Japanese. She’s thematic, but she didn’t ask for samples of my gyoza, which is a good thing because I wouldn’t have shared. The tender pork-filled dumplings, served toasty and lacy, and presented bottoms up, were among the best I’ve had.
There’s nothing that can compare to the katsu pork sliders. Let’s start with the house-made buns — they have the right density needed for the crunchy, breaded pork and spicy mayo slaw. I didn’t detect any of the expected sunomono (cucumber salad), but it wasn’t sorely missed.
However, I was more concerned by the absence of any cured meats on the house-made pickle plate. Handsomely served on a slab of slate, the happy hour array (appetizers were half-off) included pickled eggs, more pickled ginger, some vinegary green beans and baby carrots and cured onion with chili flakes. It would have been a disappointment at the full price of $9. Steamed char siu (pork) buns also lacked the spicy mayo on the accompanying slaw, leaving the least ambitious, but excellent, charred edamame to steal the show.
There are happy hour specials on some cocktails, wine and beer at Kuriya. Regardless of when you order, your drink will come in plastic — sturdy plastic, but still — and with a price of up to $12. I tried hard not to let the container influence my opinion of the Flor de Caña daiquiri, but it seemed to lack snap. On another occasion, an Aviation cocktail turned out just fine. And it should probably be mentioned that Kuriya’s handcrafted sodas, of which I sampled the bracing cucumber rendition, are perfectly at home in tough and outdoor-appropriate tumblers. Maybe that’s the way to start. A plastic tolerance may develop in time. Or not.
Kuriya @ Cherrity Bar
302 Montana St., (210) 598-0496, 11-10 Tues-Thurs, 11-11 Fri. 3-11 Sat., Accessible
Gyoza, katsu sliders, charred edamame, pork bone ramen, yakisoba, hand-crafted sodas
Two renovated cottages form the core of Cherrity Bar and Kuriya @ Cherrity Bar and are a slightly awkward fit for the concept. The dueling buildings work best on pleasant days, when both can be opened up to each other and the surrounding decks. But the excellent ramen works at all times, the yakisoba noodles are equally rewarding and a few of the smaller plates — gyoza, pork sliders and charred edamame in particular — are worth ordering with or without the bar’s hit-or-miss cocktails.
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