Koreatown is home to a brand new, chef-driven ramen concept. Saikai Ramen Bar is now open, serving modern Japanese ramen and small plates daily. The restaurant is the culinary venture of Chef Jimin Kim and Sandy Han, a husband and wife team that previously ran renowned noodle shop The Ramen Joint in Westchester. Saikai Ramen Bar combines traditional Japanese techniques with the couple’s Korean heritage and the vibrancy of Los Angeles, made with fresh California ingredients.
“I wanted to create a restaurant where you can wrap yourself up in the comfort and coziness of a steaming bowl of ramen, one that awakens and engages the senses and manages to surprise and delight at the same time. The menu at Saikai Ramen Bar is a dynamic collection of Korean and Japanese flavors, with a ton of room for experimentation and flavor balance – something that that we are very excited to bring to Los Angeles,” says Chef Kim.
Saikai Ramen Bar stems from Chef Kim’s lifelong passion for food and a deep obsession with noodles. Wanting to make food that he enjoys eating and being able to share it with others, Chef Kim combines Japanese and Korean techniques to create something different and new that simultaneously satisfies his cravings. Chef Kim, who has been a part of Los Angeles’ hospitality and dining scene for more than 20 years and is no stranger to restaurant ownership – he previously owned Pollo Dorado, a Peruvian-Mexican style chicken joint with wood-fired cooking before opening The Ramen Joint with his wife Sandy. This second restaurant drew a cult following and was a monumental success, until 2019 when the couple made the difficult decision to part ways with the brand due to irreconcilable landlord disputes.
Similarly, Sandy Han has spent more than a decade working at some of the most prestigious culinary hot spots in Los Angeles, including Connie & Ted’s, AOC and Bouchon, all of which served as the ultimate education in fine dining and California cuisine. While Sandy primarily helps manage restaurant operations, she can often be found in the kitchen working side by side with Chef Kim to ensure that each dish, from ingredients and plating to garnishing, meets the highest standards. The word saikai, which loosely translates from Japanese to mean the reunion or coming together again of two, is a nod to the couple’s past at The Ramen Joint and their future at their newest adventure.
Ramen has long been a simple, common, everyday food in Japan. Popularized in the United States by David Chang, the dish now represents a wide variety of styles – traditional, regional, and nouveau. Saikai Ramen Bar falls into the third category. The menu features ramen, rice bowls and small plates, all made from scratch on site and using noodle from famed Sun Noodles. Specifically, the broths are all house-made to ensure the perfect balance of flavor with a bright punch without the richness of sodium-heavy concentrates, a common base for broths.
The Shoyu Tonkotsu (available spicy as well) features a 24-hour house-made pork bone broth, house-made shoyu, pork chashu, bamboo shoot, wood ear mushroom, green onion, and wild perilla seeds, while the Shio and Shoyu Chicken (also available spicy) features a 16-hour house-made chicken bone broth, chicken terrine, spinach, woodear mushroom, and green onion. Additionally, the restaurant offers Vegetable Miso with kombu & shitake dashi, buttered corn, crimini & woodear mushroom, bok choy, and tofu – which can also be made vegan, creating a delectable option for those who are seeking the comfort of ramen but have specific dietary needs.
Notably, the restaurant’s signature dish is the Mazemen – a brothless ramen rarely found in Los Angeles, featuring hand massaged temomi noodle, spicy ground pork belly, seasoned seaweed, fish powder, cucumber, green onion, seasoned raw egg yolk, with a small bowl of rice served at end. The dish hits all the right culinary notes – savory, sweet, salty and refreshing, the Mazemen is a bowl full of umami and texture.
Additional menu items not to be missed include dishes inspired specifically by the melting pot of Los Angeles. The LA Corn Fritters are a spin on the classic elote, with jalapeno, green & red onion, crema, cotija, and cilantro. The Summer Vegetable Croquettes with potato, peas, corn, green beans, carrot, katsu sauce are packed with flavor and the Gyoza, a family recipe made daily with pork, cabbage, green onion, vermicelli, gyoza sauce.
For refreshments, the restaurant offers classics such as Ramune Japanese Soda, Bundaberg Ginger Beer, and fresh house-made limeade, with beer, wine and sake to come in 2020.
Always in pursuit of perfecting their craft, the Chef Kim and Han have been invited to host a pop-up in the prestigious Ramen Lab in Manhattan. Run by artisan noodle maker Sun Noodle, Ramen Lab brings ramen aficionados and plain ol’ noodle lovers together to share and experience craft ramen, from authentic Japanese styles to regional variations. The Ramen Lab pop-up program enlists aspiring and renowned ramen chefs from the U.S. and Japan to cultivate their skills and put their own spin on ramen during a three-week pop-up restaurant service. From November 26 until December 22, Saikai Ramen Bar will be on a brief hiatus while Chef Kim and Han R&D their recipes in New York City, with the goal of ultimately opening a second location there in the near future.
Saikai Ramen Bar is located at 209 N. Western Ave., Unit B, Los Angeles, CA 90004. Lunch is served daily from 11:30am – 3:00pm, and dinner is served from 5:30pm until 10:30pm. The restaurant will be on hiatus from November 26 through December 22, while Chef Kim and Han host their Ramen Lab pop-up in New York City, with regular service resuming starting Saturday, December 28.
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