Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ramen-San Dan Sall's Mexican Omakase

While I have been on a little bit of a ramen kick recently, I recently went to a ramen place not for ramen, but for Mexican food.  Ramen-San, Lettuce Entertain You's representative to Chicago's ramen scene, hosted Dan Sall's of The Garage and The Salsa Truck to do an Omakase dinner featuring cuisine from his upcoming Mexican restaurant.  While I assume most of the diners for this dinner were in a private dining room, I had a problem making a reservation, talking to three different people and they still screwed it up, so we ended up in the main dining room.  After a little talking, we did get things straightened out and while we stayed in the main dining room, we did get the omakase dinner.  The dining room was deep with high tables in the center of the room that reminded me of a high picnic table, and booths on the outside.  The furniture and floor were light wood with black iron support for the tables and chairs and old brick walls.  The soundtrack was old school rap, which is apparently a standard thing (One of their operating principles is that No one gets a room pumped up like Eric B and Rakim).  Our dinner featured four courses with four optional add ons and three cocktail choices.  The cocktail list featured two tequila based, and one mezcal based drinks.  I went with the Mezcal based drink, which was called The Diving Bell.  It featured Single Village Mezcal, but also contained Dry Gin, Yuzu, Caramelized Pineapple, and Cayenne.  It was very complex with smoky, herbal, and sweet fruit flavors and had a spicy finish.  I liked the flavors, but it did start to break somewhat as the drink aged.
For our first course, we started with Chicharones which were served with Sikil Pak, a creamy Mayan Pumpkin Seed Dip similar to Hummus in texture, and Valentina Hot Sauce.  We were given a couple of chicharones each which were light and seasoned with cayenne and to be dipped in the sikil pak which was light and tasted really good.  Unfortunately, there weren't enough chicharones to eat the sikil pak with.  While I did run a finger along the edge of the bowl, after the chicharones were gone and did taste really good, I did feel a little uncomfortable doing that and really wished for more chicharones.  This was, though, our first course, which was supposed to get us anticipating the next course which it did well.
For our next course, we progressed to Atun Borracho, or Drunken Tuna Salad which, in addition to the raw Tuna, was served with Avocado,  Pickled Mango, Tortilla Chips, and had Tequila poured over it.  This was another adventure in eating.  Although it did have a significant amount of liquid, like a ceviche, it was very unlike ceviche, and more like a tuna tartare.  I started by putting the tuna avocado and mango on the tortilla chips, but I was left with much tuna when the tortilla chips (which were very crisp and good tasting) ran out.  As we were in a Japanese restaurant, there were many chop sticks, so that is how I finished with the tuna.  While it did taste good, it was a little light on seasoning.
I was kind of excited for the next course, Cochinita Pibil Tacos, because Mexican Pulled Pork, which is essentially what Cochinita Pibil is, is very good and flavorful and you can't go wrong with tacos.  In addition to the Pulled Pork (and the Corn Tortilla), it also had Mango Salsa and Pickled Onions.  The tacos were good, but not great.  I was a little disappointed because thay felt like they were missing something.  They were, however, quickly wolfed down.
When we go to the last official course, we were considering adding another course, because the first three had still left us a little hungry.  We had not decided when our last course arrived, which was a good thing, because we would have had to take something home.  The last course was a Japanese-Mexican Fusion called Pozole "Ramen".  Pozole and Ramen occupy the same areas in their respective cuisines so it seemed to be a natural fit.  Pozole is a stew with hominy and pork and ramen is essentially a stew with noodles and a bone broth.  With the Pozole Romen, we had Hominy, Noodles, a Red Broth that is common with pozole, which was kind of spicy, Chashu Pork (a marinated pork belly which while with a Japanese name, is relatively common in pozole).  It was also served with a Bean Tostada, which while simple, was pretty good.  After we made it through this, we were actually happy that we didn't order anything else, because we were kind of full.  The pozole ramen was good and spicy with a lot of noodles and hominy.  The pork was tender and flavorful and it was a pretty good finish...
We thought.  While it wasn't listed, a small dessert was also included.  We were given Churros with a Honey Mango Dipping Sauce.  The Churros were very light and airy with a light and crispy crust and a covered with sugar.  The dipping sauce was sweet.  If it had been with just honey, it would have been too sweet, but the mango added a tartness to it that toned things down and definitely made for a good finish.

While everything was good, nothing was really great.  We did finish very satisfied, but it might have been nice to try some of the add on dishes which included Duck Carnitas, Mexico City Fried Chicken, Braised Lamb, and Braised Shrimp.  The problem with my reservation was a little annoying, but they recovered well and while I say that nothing was fantastic, I might still be interested in trying out Chef Dan's restaurant when it opens.       

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