There's something about the colder weather that makes me crave a hot bowl of noodle soup. There are even days when I actually don a sweater or a jacket, days that are not especially cold, but I want something warm in my belly so I pretend it is near freezing outside and prepare to eat.
That's where ramen comes in. Like everyone else in Houston, it seems, I've been bitten by the ramen bug. And ever since I had my first bowl of the Spicy Soy Milk Ramen at Kata Robata, I literally can't get enough of it.
I first tasted it during a happy hour with the women who represent byejoe, a clear white spirit made in China. On that evening, we were enjoying byejoe cocktails made by the Kata Robata team and eating an assortment of foods. I'd planned on ordering ramen, and learned that there were three from which to choose: Spicy Soy Milk, Duck Dumpling and Kata ramen (the standard ramen on offer).
On the recommendation of the server, I ordered the Duck Dumpling Ramen, which came in a clear duck-based broth, similar to a shoyu but with duck flavor (of course) and several gyoza-style poached dumplings stuffed with duck confit. It was very good, and would likely please any duck lover, but I was craving a creamier broth, something more akin to a tonkotsu broth.
And then my girlfriend received her bowl of Spicy Soy Milk Ramen. The rich, milky broth and red-orange spices floating at the top looked like exactly what I wanted. One spoonful confirmed it: I had to have it. "I didn't order this tonight but I tasted it and it gave me food envy!" I tweeted.
A couple of weeks later, I was back at Kata Robata with two friends. My friend Carlos had tasted the ramen broth before. David, my other friend, had not. We ordered the Spicy Soy Milk Ramen to share at the beginning of our meal, and what an impression it made. It arrived steaming hot, the aromas wafting from the bowl teeming with the promised deliciousness of what we would taste. David and I both let out involuntary exclamations of excitement, the anticipation mounting as we split up noodles and broth and the toppings into each of our respective bowls.
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There are times when anticipation such as this lets you down. Not so on this night, or on any of the subsequent nights that I tasted this heavenly rich bowl of ramen. The broth is a work of art, the creaminess speaking of long hours of simmering pork bone and high-quality spices and other ingredients. Soy milk adds a delicate sweetness, and little oil droplets of red-orange spice dot the top of the bowl, possessing a lip- and throat-tingling heat that, however, doesn't quite burn.
For toppings, you receive a small mound of milk-braised pork, wakame, pickled red ginger, bean sprouts and a soft-boiled egg sliced in two, the yolk just barely cooked so that it oozes into the broth if you cut into it, making the broth even creamier. "Spicy soy milk ramen. The best in the city. No contest," I tweeted.
When I expressed this same sentiment to Kata Robata's general manager, Blake, he told me that the executive chef of Tony's, Grant Gordon, had been in just the day before and loved it that much, too. Here's what Gordon tweeted: "In my opinion the spicy soy milk ramen @KataRobata is not only among the best ramen in Houston but among the best I've had in LA or New York too."
Who says you have to drive down to Chinatown for a bona-fide bowl of ramen? At Kata, you can get a fantastic bowl inside the loop, and get your sushi fix on at the same time, too.