Au­then­tic ra­men rules the menu at Ha­jime

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

It’s sad but I never ate a bowl of ra­men un­til about five years ago. I re­mem­ber that when­ever I got stoned with hip­pie friends in my col­lege dorm, some­body in­evitably in­sisted we make in­stant Ja­panese ra­men on my con­tra­band hot­plate. I never felt ad­e­quately fucked up to eat the stuff. I was ac­tu­ally kind of re­lieved when the dorm man­ager seized my hot­plate dur­ing Christ­mas break.

In the last few years, our en­tire cul­ture – ac­tu­ally, the en­tire globe’s – has be­come ob­sessed with ra­men. In case you’re as ig­no­rant as I was, au­then­tic ra­men is a typ­i­cally su­per-rich pork broth full of noo­dles, atop which float in­gre­di­ents like sliced juicy pork, mush­rooms, seafood, bam­boo shoots, corn – what­ever the chef de­signs and what­ever you want to add.

The first bowl of gen­uine ra­men I ate was at Umaido, which is 30 miles away in Suwa­nee and is still open after seven years. Hap­pily, Umaido has spawned a new intown ra­men shop, lo­cated at Cheshire Square, be­hind Rain, around the cor­ner from the Tara The­atre

Ha­jime, (2345 Cheshire Bridge Rd., At­lanta. 470-428-2388).

Per­haps the lus­cious ra­men here is in part echo­ing the las­civ­i­ous vibe of the for­mer ten­ant, BJ Roost­ers. You won’t rec­og­nize it. The place is all dark wood with in­di­vid­ual ta­bles as well as a long com­mu­nal one whose cen­ter is a ta­ble-length rock gar­den re­plete with sand.

Ha­jime’s menu is huge. There are plenty of side dishes and ap­pe­tiz­ers – ev­ery­thing from the usual edamame to a bowl of salted fried chicken, a salad of cu­cum­ber and oc­to­pus, and flaw­less gy­oza dumplings. You should not limit your starters to the for­mal ap­pe­tiz­ers. Most of the side dishes on a sep­a­rate menu page work just as well.

The star here is of course the ra­men. There are 10 va­ri­eties. All but one fea­ture clas­sic tonkotsu, a broth made by boil­ing pork bones for hours and hours, even days. The re­sult is a slightly salty, dense broth with a very thin sheet of glis­ten­ing fat which of course, helps deepen the fla­vor. The house­made noo­dles, in a tan­gle in the mid­dle of the bowl, are nearly as good as a spoon at get­ting the broth to your mouth. They’re tra­di­tion­ally ab­sorbent and nois­ily slur­pable.

The de­fault go-to here is the clas­sic tonkot­sum, num­ber 1 on the menu. The large bowl holds two gen­er­ous slices of de­li­ciously roasted pork, bean sprouts, gar­lic oil, and some mys­te­ri­ous chopped greens. The bowl, and all but one of the oth­ers, in­cludes half a boiled egg with a melt­ing yolk meant to be stirred into the broth for added creami­ness. All these in­gre­di­ents, sparkling fresh, are ap­par­ently dropped into the soup at the last minute, be­cause their fla­vors are strong and play­ful. You know: Op­po­sites at­tract.

I’ve also en­joyed the spicy ra­men. It in­cludes the roasted pork, along with a spicy soy­bean paste, pick­led gin­ger, red pep­per pow­der, peanut oil, scal­lions, and se­same. Its st­ing is mild, com­pared to the “ul­tra-spicy,” which friends tell me is vir­tu­ally ined­i­ble un­less your taste buds are dead.

It will re­quire numer­ous vis­its to try out Ha­jime’s full menu. There’s also a menu of rice dishes with a va­ri­ety of in­trigu­ing top­pings, in­clud­ing raw oc­to­pus and cod roe. But don’t even think of not or­der­ing the ra­men.

Cliff Bo­s­tock is a for­mer psy­chother­a­pist now spe­cial­iz­ing in life coach­ing. Con­tact him at 404-518-4415 or cliff­bo­

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