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Dining review: Ramen that will do in a pinch

May 18, 2012|By Lisa Dupuy
  • Pedestrians walk by Orochon Ramen at 220 N. San Fernando Blvd. in Burbank.
Pedestrians walk by Orochon Ramen at 220 N. San Fernando… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

By the time I got to Orochon Ramen, my dinner mates were like grumpy bears. The table was cramped and they’d ordered drinks that never materialized. I was undaunted. Parking was easier than I thought it would be in Downtown Burbank, and I liked what they’d done with the place. Their clever use of inexpensive pine and paper turned a cavernous ex-Tony Roma’s into a sleek Japanese eatery. We switched to a more spacious table and as soon as the waitress arrived, reiterated our drink requests and cheerfully ordered our food.

A plate of crispy dumplings arrived in a couple minutes. Things were starting to look up.

The dumplings ($3.50) were nicely browned, with a mousse-like filling. Our sweet (but not-so-efficient) waitress suggested mixing a little from all three cruets on the table for a tasty dipping sauce: soy sauce, rice vinegar and toasted sesame oil. She was right. Those cruets kept coming in handy all evening. Also handy was the stash of napkins, straws and chopsticks in a “secret” drawer built into the table like a Japanese puzzle box.

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Our second appetizer, cha-shu pork ($6.95) arrived shortly after. Nothing like the Chinese char siu (slices of pork shoulder with bright red skin), this cha-shu is a thick rasher of simmered pork belly. It’s moist, delicious and served on a simple bean sprout salad.

Then a big steaming bowl of soup arrived: Miso Ramen, Heat Level 4 ($7.50). Orochon makes a big deal over heat levels. The word “orochon” itself means bravery in an ancient Japanese language. Level 7 is non-spicy, whereas level 1 is called extreme Orochon. It takes the most stalwart of ninjas to eat a Level 1. If you really want to prove your mettle, you can order the Special 2 (which inexplicably is spicier than Special 1). If you finish it, your picture will be added to the Wall of Bravery.

Now, I’m not averse to spiciness, but this Level 4 was pretty hot. The problem was the heat was not integral to the broth. It simply lay on top of an otherwise bland miso-based hot liquid. I felt like a bipolar Goldilocks when I declared, “This soup is too bland/spicy.”

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