Thursday, February 12, 2009

Le Ramen Chez Sapporo, Paris

I’m spending a few days in Paris on my way back home to Champagne from the Loire Valley, and yesterday I stopped in at Sapporo, on the rue Sainte-Anne, for a bowl of ramen. Now, any sort of non-French food in France is generally a distinctly disappointing experience, and particularly anything that has origins in East Asia. I’ve eaten at a few of the Japanese places on the rue Sainte-Anne before, and quite frankly, they’re mostly not very good. So my expectations were rock-bottom low. But the weather was damp and chilly, and I happened to be in the area, and the idea of ramen was mightily compelling.

Sapporo at least looks right—it’s crowded, with a counter to sit at so you can watch your ramen being made, and everybody who works there is Japanese. As it also serves yakisoba and various rice dishes, it’s not a dedicated ramen shop, which in Japan or even the United States might send up an immediate red flag. Here in Paris, however, which in terms of things Japanese is essentially a barbarian wilderness, it’s a detail that I am willing to overlook. I ordered chashu ramen, which arrived promptly, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually not all that bad. As you can see from this photo, the aesthetic is rather austere: shoyu broth, a copious amount of noodles, five slices of pork, a few slices of bamboo shoots and a little spinach for color. That’s fine. I like minimalism.

Comparing it to ramen in NYC (I feel, after all, that expat ramen should be gauged against other expat ramen, and not compared to the real thing back in the motherland), it made me think of Rai Rai Ken, although not nearly as good, particularly in the broth department. The aesthetic of overall simplicity is similar, however. Sapporo’s broth was delicious without being complex or particularly memorable, while the pork was actually pretty good, with much more charry flavor than its appearance might suggest. The noodles were rather lackluster, but they were at least cooked katame (roughly “al dente”), which is the way that I prefer them (since I eat slowly compared to a Japanese ramen eater, and the noodles continue to cook in the hot broth). I suppose that a test of quality as good as any is that I finished the whole bowl, which is more than I can say for other ramen places on the rue Sainte-Anne.

I realize that this is sort of like when Richard Juhlin or Tom Stevenson gives a sparkling wine 72 points and then insists that it’s really a worthwhile wine in its class and you ought to give it some attention, but I did leave the place satisfied, and I think I’ll even go back. Would I take my Japanese friends there? Not a chance. I doubt I would even take my ramen-loving gaijin friends there. But for a ramen junkie living in a barren ramen wasteland, Sapporo provides a fix that is acceptably pas mal.

Sapporo, 37 rue Sainte-Anne, Paris 1er

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