For the past several months, it seems everyone in the Houston food scene has been talking about ramen. It's already been big in places like New York and Los Angeles (and even Austin) for a while, but the ramen craze has just recently arrived in Houston, and it's not showing signs of slowing down any time soon.
So what's the big deal with ramen?
When done right, ramen can be the perfect meal. Hearty, comforting, well-balanced (if a little high in sodium) and still slightly exotic; It's the wunderkind of Japanese food, and beyond that, it's oh-so trendy.
Because it's trendy and tasty and sort of healthy, I really wanted to love the ramen at Goro & Gun, the subject of this week's cafe review. I wanted to be one of those people who gets ramen for lunch once a week and Instagrams the kaleidoscope of ingredients in my bowl so everyone knows I'm hip to both this swanky dish and modern technology. I wanted to be a ramen regular, but so far I'm just not getting the allure.
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Goro & Gun's lobster ramen is good, but it didn't really seem like ramen in the traditional sense of the dish. The pork belly ramen is delicious and much more like the ramen happening in big cities across the country (and, of course, Japan), but it was still lacking something. All the elements were there, but they weren't harmonizing as well as they could be. Don't get me wrong; I ate the whole bowl. But when I finished, I was left thinking, "This is what all the ramen hype is about?"
Because Goro & Gun originally marketed itself as the first true ramen restaurant in Houston, I sincerely want it to live up to that reputation. But here's the rub: Most of the other non-ramen menu items are pretty good. Some of them are even really good. The cocktail program is top-notch, with drinks that are complex enough to feel fancy but simple enough that they go down smoothly. The beer selection is also admirable, and though it's been criticized as a little too haphazard, the decor is wonderfully funky and whimsical. It really is a cool restaurant, but I would have been more impressed with the place had I not gone in expecting to be blown away by the ramen.
The good news is Goro & Gun is still fairly new, and in spite of a slew of contradictory reviews on Houston blogs and on sites like Yelp, the place draws a decent evening crowd. I suspect that, like me, people want to find out about the ramen and see what kind of crazy new thing the chef will cook up next. It's a great concept and a fun place to eat, even though it can be inconsistent.
I hope that even if people find the ramen unimpressive, they'll continue to give Goro & Gun a shot, because there are some treasures to be found both on the menu and at the bar. And I hope that the ramen continues to improve so I can show up to lunch, phone in hand, and be the ramen-photographing hipster I've always longed to be.