Restau­rant takes ra­men to next level

Ja­panese fare is au­then­tic — and no sign of sushi

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - Showtime - Broward - - DINING - By Michael Mayo

Is a bowl of soup worth $20? In the case of Shimuja restau­rant in Davie and its Kagoshima spe­cial ra­men, the an­swer is a re­sound­ing yes. It is won­drous, the best ra­men I have tasted in South Florida, per­haps worth its weight in gold. The broth is rich and deep, a golden-brown­ish hue stri­ated with milky rip­ples of mar­row re­leased from pork bones that sim­mer for 18 hours. Ac­tu­ally, a whole pig — head and all — is re­duced to this soulful essence, which is then lay­ered with yel­low egg noo­dles, slices of braised pork belly, scal­lions, cab­bage, sprouts, sea­weed, fish cake, boiled egg and a gen­er­ous pile of crispy, fried kikurage (wood ear mush­room) shards.

This is a meal, not sim­ply a bowl of soup, and it most de­cid­edly is not your dorm room’s ra­men.

Din­ers who want to save five bucks can order the stripped­down tonkotsu ver­sion ($15), the same hearty broth with noo­dles and slices of roasted Duroc pork shoul­der. For ve­gans and the pork averse, Shimuja has a lighter yet no less fla­vor­ful op­tion, the Niku ra­men ($17), made from kombu (sea kelp), shi­itake mush­rooms and spe­cialty soy sauce, and piled with thin rice noo­dles.

That such an au­then­tic taste of Ja­pan is now found in a strip mall next to a Publix in the west­ern Broward sub­urbs is an amaz­ing story, one that shows how small the world has be­come in the 21st cen­tury. That some pa­trons have been com­plain­ing about the price of this per­fec­tion since Shimuja opened three months ago is dis­turb­ing.

“There’s been push­back,” man­ag­ing part­ner Yoko Takarada said in a fol­lowup in­ter­view af­ter my vis­its. “Peo­ple are used to pay­ing $10 or $12 for ra­men. They don’t un­der­stand how much goes into this.”

A decade ago, Kei­ichi Mae­mura ditched his ca­reer as a stock­bro­ker in Fukuoka, Ja­pan, af­ter he be­came ob­sessed with the tonkotsu ra­men found at Ip­pudo, a chain head­quar­tered in that city. He be­came a ra­men chef, studying un­der Ip­pudo’s founder, Shigemi Kawa­hara. Af­ter work­ing at Ip­pudo’s New York out­post, Mae­mura re­turned to his home­town of Kagoshima City in 2011 to open his own ra­men shop, Shimuja. The first lo­ca­tion had six seats. The sec­ond lo­ca­tion was on Mi­ami Av­enue in Kagoshima City, and soon Mae­mura was en­tranced with the no­tion of open­ing a shop in the real Mi­ami, Kagoshima’s sis­ter city.

Two years ago, Mae­mura op­er­ated pop-ups in Mi­ami Beach and the Brick­ell area. But rents in Mi­ami were pro­hib­i­tive, and he wanted a spot with free park­ing. He scouted the re­gion and set­tled on the Re­gency Square strip mall just east of the Grif­fin Road exit of I-75, near a Waf­fle House and Dairy Queen.

Amer­i­can-born Yoko Takarada knew she wanted to be in­volved with Shimuja upon her first slurp of Mae­mura’s ra­men at the popup. Her fam­ily runs the ven­er­a­ble Toni’s Sushi in Mi­ami Beach (in busi­ness since 1987), and she also owns Shokudo restau­rant in Mi­ami’s De­sign District.

“Kei­ichi had al­ready signed the lease in Davie, and I brought some lo­cal knowl­edge and restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence,” Takarada says. “I was a lit­tle skep­ti­cal about the lo­ca­tion, but peo­ple are finding us. There is a big Asian com­muni-

The Kagoshima spe­cial ra­men ($20) at Shimuja restau­rant in Davie is an au­then­tic taste of Ja­pan, its broth made from whole pig and pork bones.

PHOTOS BY CARLINE JEAN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Pork belly buns ($9) from Shimuja restau­rant in Davie.

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