When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
All noodles are not created equal, and just because you can whip up an excellent bowl of pasta al pomodoro does not mean you can also craft a perfect bowl of ramen.
Fortunately for downtown Phoenix residents, however, it seems the crew at the newly opened spots Otakumen and Pat & Waldo's seem to do a decent job at both. The restaurants, which debuted in early January and have been open intermittently since then, share a single space inside the ground floor of the Orpheum Lofts. Enter and you'll find two counters, one for the ramen shop, Otakumen, and one for the pasta-centric Pat & Waldo's.
In the spirit of the restaurant's split personalities, we tried dishes from both the Japanese and Italian menus, starting with an order of Otakumen's handmade gyoza. Sadly, they set things off to a bumpy start. The tiny dumplings, which came in an order of six, tasted most strongly of lighter fluid with a faint aftertaste of pork. Even when dipped in the accompanying vinegar and soy sauce, we couldn't bring ourselves to clear the plate.
An order of fettuccine with browned sage butter and sausage fared better. It, too, arrived at the table at a lower-than-ideal temperature, but at least it offered pleasant and subtle flavors, as well as nicely al dente pasta. The sage added a nice bit of depth to what otherwise would have been a fairly straightforward combination of cream sauce, noodles, and sausage. As it cooled, the sauce made it increasingly difficult to extract the weighed-down fettuccini from the heavy toppings, but by then, our orders of ramen had arrived anyway.
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Here, Otakumen exceeded expectations. A bowl of shoyu ramen, made with dashi and chicken broths, came filled with nicely cooked curly ramen noodles and topped with pork, spinach, half a boiled egg, red onions, chives, and bamboo shoots. The soy sauce-flavored broth was light but flavorful, making it a perfect backdrop for the generous variety of toppings. Otakumen's miso togarashi (spicy miso) ramen also was satisfying. Featuring a pork- and chicken-based broth, the bowl came loaded with pork, half a boiled egg, garlic chips, and vegetables. The broth's smoky spice hit just the right level, though the amount of fat and oil did begin to coat our mouth in a somewhat unpleasant way by the time we'd finished our meal.
At less than $10 bowl, Otakumen's ramen lands on the more affordable end of the spectrum when compared to other places in town. And though the quality might not overwhelm you, the combination of noodles and broth at this downtown haunt will certainly satisfy your ramen cravings. As for Pat & Waldo's, the menu offers a nice slew of choices for that picky friend who never wants to go out for ramen but happily will pay $8 for a bowl of bolognese.