Bethesda Magazine’s Favorite New Restaurants
More than 70 restaurants have opened in the Bethesda area in the last two years. Food critic David Hagedorn chooses his 10 favorites.
3. Akira Ramen & Izakaya
The broth in the signature Akira Ramen is simmered for 12 hours. Photo by Mike Morgan
Take my word for it and show up at this 42-seat Rockville Pike eatery in the Galvan at Twinbrook apartment building when it opens at 11 a.m. Otherwise, you’ll likely wait 10 to 20 minutes in line on weeknights and longer on weekends. Akira’s fine cooking team is headed by chefs Tony Lin and Jerry Li. Chef Li makes the restaurant’s curly and straight ramen noodles in a Silver Spring warehouse. “Kotani-san taught us how to make our wheat-based ramen noodles,” says owner and Silver Spring resident Edward Wong, referring to Japanese noodle master Shuichi Kotani, whom Wong hired as a consultant to ensure that the key ingredient in Akira’s ramen betters any competition. “And now he is showing us how to make our own soba [buckwheat] and [thick, chewy, wheat-based] udon noodles.”
The noodles are the star of the show at Akira Ramen, which opened last October. The curly variety, which have a bit of a chew, can withstand the heat of the broth longer than the thinner, straight noodles. Some of Akira’s seven ramen offerings are made with pork stock, others with chicken or vegetable stock. The signature Akira Ramen is my favorite; its broth, made with pork thigh and back bones, onions, carrots and ginger, offers a complexity and richness developed during a 12-hour simmering. Rolled pork belly is braised in a soy-based sauce, refrigerated, sliced and then seared to order with a blowtorch before being added to the bowl, along with a soft-boiled egg, chopped scallions, corn, sliced fish cake, bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms and nori sheets. Bean sprouts and ground pork that have been quickly sautéed in a flaming wok impart a slight smokiness and extra dimension to the soup (this technique is also used in the vegetable ramen), and dashes of black (fermented) garlic oil provide a complex finishing note. In the tonkatsu miso broth, seasoned miso paste makes the broth milky white and lends the soup a creamy texture.
But Akira isn’t just about noodles; it’s also an izakaya, which is a pub that serves snacks—a Japanese version of a tapas bar. From the special offerings menu, the hamachi carpaccio—slices of yellowtail seared with a blowtorch, topped with flying fish roe (tobiko) and served in a light soy broth—is a winner. Thumbs-up also for the okonomiyaki, an egg and cabbage pancake perched on bacon slices and dressed with mayonnaise and a ketchup- and Worcestershire-based condiment called okonomi sauce. Delicate dried bonito flakes on top of the okonomiyaki “dance” in the wind. This place is so good I’d even brave the line.
1800 Rockville Pike, Rockville | 240-242-3669 | akiraramen.com