Cold? Try Greensboro’s new ramen mainstay

0
1300
asian-kitchen-ramen-and-pork-bun
The spicy ramen and steamed pork buns

I’d planned, sometime this fall, to write about my favorite soups in the area. It would’ve been an appropriate choice after this past weekend, when a thick fog smothered the Triad and we obediently adjusted our clocks, making the sun disappear earlier. But with the purveyor of my favorite local udon recently closed — Grill N’ Pho U inside of the Super G international market in west Greensboro — the list would be too short.

But there’s a silver lining; in its place, a new pan-Asian restaurant has stepped into the ring, and with a decided focus on hot soups, it’s the perfect fall pick-me-up.

The uninspired nature of the restaurant’s name — Asian Kitchen: Noodle & Rice Bowl — reveals little about the menu.

The entrée items are split into two primary categories: noodle soup, and rice. The former consists exclusively of ramen and pho, and for the latter you choose a base and then a topping (or two).

Only a handful of places in the Triad sell ramen, the broth-centric Japanese noodle soup that has long been popular in major American cities. But none feature ramen as prominently in the menu as Asian Kitchen, instead often burying it as a single item deep among other options, suggesting it’s not a priority or specialty. Here, customers can pick between four types of broth, including the shio (salt-based) variety that I’ve yet to see on a local menu as well as shoyu, miso and spicy (all of which feature in the repertoire at Don Japanese on Tate Street).

Sorry, vegetarians — the broths themselves are made with pork bones cooking for hours, which is great news for the rest of us.

If you’ve had ramen before in the United States, chances are you tried a shoyu variety. The soy-based broth is thick, simple and perfect for warming your insides on a dreary day. If it’s you’re first time having ramen, this is probably where you want to start, too.

But if you can handle a little spice, go that route; the redder, thinner broth made with chili powder isn’t so hot that it will drain your nostrils.

Looking for something warm but not as heavy? Go with the shio. The miso is a heavier, richer option, made with fermented bean, hailing from a colder region of Japan and arriving on the scene much more recently than its counterparts.

All of the ramen at Asian Kitchen comes seasoned pork belly, which is lightly fried and gradually boiled in seasoning, as well as seaweed (wakame), dried seaweed (nori), spring onions, hard-boiled egg and soba noodles. They’re doing their best to obtain higher quality noodles, which the cook said are hard to come by, but the ramen is delicious nonetheless in the meantime.

Visually, little has changed since Grill N’ Pho U departed the storefront inside the massive grocery, just inside the main doors and to the right. A semi-faded marketplace mural still adorns the first surface patrons see after entering. The menu design is similar, even if the items have changed, and the tables appear to be the same as well.

You can still snag bubble tea, you still order at the counter though orders are delivered tableside, and you can still pick from an assortment of Vietnamese pho options, including three beef varieties, chicken and seafood.

Based on the quality of the ramen broths and the effort put into those bowls, from the halved hard-boiled eggs to noodle curation, it’s reasonable to assume the pho at Asian Kitchen is worthwhile. That’s not a reason to ditch your standing lunch date at Pho Hien Vuong a short drive away, but it should help the restaurant appeal to a wider audience in a city that hasn’t fully embraced the ramen craze.

While the two noodle soups dominate the menu, they don’t entirely eclipse the other choices. In particular: several Filipino dishes.

The clearest example is the caldereta, one of the rice bowls. Typically prepared with slow-cooked goat, caldereta is one of three selections for Asian Kitchen’s rice bowls, the other two being curry and spicy. Bowls come with white rice, a fried egg and vegetables, and customers pick from a lineup of 10 toppings ranging from spam to tofu to egg and cheese. While the list includes less common selections such as bacon, tuna, egg and cheese, sausage and shrimp, goat and lamb don’t appear. But if you’re in the mood for something hearty and don’t want soup, the Filipino caldereta with pork would be a natural choice.

The establishment also provides a mix of appetizers, from egg rolls and a crab cake to someone misplaced options like cheese-stuffed jalapeños, chicken nuggets and cheese sticks. Skip the fried stuff and go for something steamed instead.

Asian Kitchen bolsters its appeal with siopao pork buns, in particular. Ever had a stuffed Chinese steamed bun called char siu bao? This is the version you’d find in the Philippines. The fat dumpling with a wave-like pattern on top making it look like a small, white bundle is just like the manapua dumplings you’ll find at ZC Hawaiian BBQ across town: soft and chewy, with a warm, pork-filled interior. A $3 order at Asian Kitchen comes with two, about the size of plump baseballs, and is absolutely worth ordering.

The restaurant also sells siomai dim sum shrimp, again a Filipino word that diners might recognize as the small, bite-sized shumai available at places like Mizu in Winston-Salem. And there’s a more straightforward six-piece steamed dumpling option too, though the menu doesn’t elaborate on what it entails.

Whether or not you’re still hungry after some pork buns and ramen, allow some time to peruse the aisles of Super G Mart. You might walk away with some kiwi-flavored, Korean-made gummies, produce native to Central America or soda that hails from eastern Europe.

Grill N’ Pho U’s successor may be pan Asian, but luckily it isn’t as all encompassing as the surrounding market. That would stretch it too thin, which has certainly been the downfall of plenty of other local venues. Its variety seems well designed to reach beyond niche appeal without watering down what it’s good at, making it a welcome addition to the Triad’s food scene. Especially thanks to the ramen.

Visit Asian Kitchen inside Super G Mart at 4927 W. Market St. (GSO) any day except Wednesdays, or find Asian Kitchen Diner on Facebook.