by Phil Wong
Ramen in Orlando
Ever since I was old enough to hold a pair of chopsticks, I’ve always had an affinity for ramen. Ramen for me was never just noodles and soup, it was a bowl of comfort. Garnished that with some veggies or meat and you have a hearty meal that I would eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. As an adult, my love for ramen is unwavering but my palette has now outgrown the “instant” format.
I want the good stuff, the stuff that is created through years of trial and error, the stuff that takes hours, if not days to stew, and the stuff that’s given life by talented chefs through their own flavors and their own styles. Good ramen (real ramen) consists of 3 main components: the noodles, the broth, and your garnish.
Individually these components each need to shine, but more importantly, they need to work harmoniously together in a single bowl. The ramen scene has become exceedingly popular in recent years with many specialized shops popping out throughout the country serving just this.
In my travels throughout the country, one of the things I always look for are the best ramen restaurants in the area, and it might surprise you how many of them there are. However, I’ve always been disappointed with the scarcity of good ramen restaurants in my home town of Orlando. There are a lot of places you can go to get ramen, but it’s never the star, just the supporting actor, but recently my ramen prayers have been answered with the opening of Domu in the East End Market of Baldwin Park.
Domu offers a variety of traditional style ramen, beautifully presented in a modern/rustic atmosphere. I’ve been twice and have thoroughly enjoyed my experience, and their food, both times. Currently they are only open for dinner and it fills up quick.
Both times we visited, there was a bit of a wait, however there is a nice lounge area while you wait with a full-service bar and an appetizer menu. First off, their drinks are beautiful. There is a lot of craftsmanship that goes into every drink, and every drink is a classic cocktail with a bit of an Asian/Japanese twist. Highly recommend you try them all.
For appetizers, go with the Korean Fried Chicken. These crispy/flaky bastards are delicious. The batter is light yet extremely crunchy and your reward for breaking past this oily layer is the tender juicy chicken underneath. If you’re only going to get one appetizer, go with this one.
For the stars of our show, I really appreciate their limited ramen list. A good bowl or ramen takes time, and there are 4 options to choose from starting with your more traditional tonkotsu and shoyu style broths (each having simmered for 18 and 7 hours respectively), and I was surprised to find a tsukemen (dipping ramen) and a cold variant on their menu which is something I haven’t seen a lot of.
I’m a fan of the classics so I have a hard time deviating from the tonkotsu and shoyu bases. The broths are spot on, from the coloring and consistency of each to the rich unique and savory flavors that result from only hours of reduction. The noodles are the perfect consistency, both soft and firm with the right amount of “bounce” that you would want for slurping.
We sat at the kitchen bar both times in the dining area and you can see the meticulous detail and the care that’s invested into composing each bowl. The garnish that goes on is skillfully layered and placed on top of the noodles transforming a very basic dish to a bowl of art.
The egg that sits atop the ramen was surprisingly one of the best components. Not only is it marinated, there’s a layer of sugar that’s placed over the yolk and then torched and so the sugar melts and crystallizes like a mini-crème brulee. This process takes something as basic as an egg and transforms it into this subtlety sweet addition that just gives the entire dish another level of sophistication.
If you’re looking for excellent ramen in Central Florida, look no further than Domu. This place is comparable to a lot of the eccentric ramen shops I’ve visited throughout the country and it’s nice to have this gem in our own backyard. If you’re a ramen lover like me, or if you’ve never had a good bowl or ramen, spoil yourself and make the visit. You won’t be disappointed.