Life has changed for this food writer. As a brand-new mom, poppin’ bottles has taken on a slightly different meaning. But while I find myself seeking out diaper changing tables for the first time ever, I’m still on the hunt for all the awesome happy hours, exciting menus and H-town icons. Only now, I’m bringing my baby, Quinn, along with me. This “Whining and Dining” series looks at dining out with a baby in the city (more specifically, In the Loop, because Quinn doesn’t like to travel too far from home just yet).
It was 7:45 p.m. on a Friday, and Ramen Tatsu-Ya was just starting to get busy.
“Table for three?,” the young woman at the counter asked with a smile at Quinn. “Yes, well, two and space for the stroller would be awesome.” The wink at my baby and sample of sake she gave me were enough to endear me to the place. I’d been to the Austin import before, but never as a family of three.
We finished our order and they quickly showed us to our table, a big one in the back where there was ample room for Quinn. The guy who seated us asked if the music was too loud. It wasn’t. She likes a lot of noise at this point.
I ended up going with that sake, by the way. The Kikusui Junmai Ginjo "Chrysanthemum Water" is bright and crisp, with a subtle fruity nose and light dry finish. Here, the crystal-clear nectar is served “masu style”, with an overflowing shot glass set inside an aromatic cypress wood box. The cypress imparts a unique flavor into the sake, and you can drink it straight from the glass or from the corner of the box, as I attempted to before I lost a portion of the good stuff to my chin. I’ll have to work on that.
Tatsu-ya is equally as serious about its ramen. Dining at the restaurant comes with rules: No take-out (ramen is meant to be eaten hot and fresh); no sharing (that’s just blasphemous); sip the broth before you dig into the noods; and shameless slurping is fully welcome. Challenge accepted.
I took my first slurp of the velvety Mi-So-Not Ramen pork bone broth (which arrived at a super-sonic speed) to get a baseline before adding some Spicy Bomb, one of Tatsu-Ya’s many “flavor bombs” that I tacked on the side. The fiery paste — a medium-high heat — is basically a heap of red chilies, and though you can simply order the Mi-So-Hot ramen, I like full control over my bowl’s spice level. A few dabs were enough to bring a nice heat to the miso blend, which was also studded with ground pork, half an ajitama (a seasoned half-boiled egg), scallion, napa cabbage, bean sprout, niblets of corn and an extra ajitama because the yolky egg is one of my favorite parts of the ramen experience. Oh, and the noodles, of course. Ramen Tatsu-Ya crafts each noodle specifically for a certain broth.
I could barely take down half (thanks to the giant Kirin I also ordered with my sake and ramen), but if
you finish your noodles and are still hungry, just flag a server and ask for more. Kae-dama means extra noodles, and it’s a practice the ramen shop takes to heart.
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By the time we left around 8:30 p.m., the line was out the door. We pushed Quinn through the crowd, down the ramp and made sure to wave goodbye to Notorious C.A.T. (the giant lucky fortune cat, also formerly known as Meowtrose) on the way out.
TL;DR: While you may not think of this cool kid’s noodle shop as a place for kids, the staff was plenty accommodating and extremely quick, even on a busy Friday night. Add a “flavor bomb” to your bowl and definitely try the sake.
Kid-Friendly Dining Essentials
Parking: Small lot
Seating: High chairs and booster seats available (plus room to pull up a stroller)
Bathrooms: No changing tables
Kids menu: None, but can order half-portions of Tonkotsu Original and Ol’ Skool upon request (they include only broth and noodles, with additional toppings extra)
Reservations: No, seating is first-come, first served
Extras: Training chopsticks for kids (or adults, not judging) and cute Ramen Tatsu-ya stickers for purchase at the register
Ramen Tatsu-Ya, 1722 California, 346-226-3253