I finally understand how Aragorn felt when he first met Arwen Undomiel.
I thought I had wandered into a dream.
That’s how I felt when I first saw a picture of Butamaru’s ramen on the Internet. The striking black bowl, the brightly colored broth, the vibrant green onions, and the neatly arranged wood ear mushrooms came together like an artwork. I instantly shared the image with my friends and said, “We must go.”
And so I did. I visited Butamaru’s Ortigas branch a couple of times.
This newly opened branch, which is designed to be more of an izakaya, had several additions to its menu, such as the Spicy Tuna Tacos (P175) and the Kimchi Chashu Tacos (P150). Between the two, the former is the more crowd-pleasing choice. It lacked the sting one would associate with anything spicy, however. Another thing to try is the Curry Gyoza (P150), which takes everyday potstickers out of the ordinary with its complex curry flavors.
While all of these appetizers were moderately delightful, a true test of a ramen house is the quality of its Shio Ramen (P310). Before we go into the details, it pays to know that Butamaru’s crew simmers the opaque tonkotsu broth for 16 hours before serving. And this patience, this perseverance, can be somewhat felt when you sip on the Shio Ramen.
The soup is a bit thin and oily, but sufficiently flavorful. I prefer my tonkotsu on the thicker and richer side, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this Shio Ramen. When you take your first whiff, you’ll immediately notice the strong scent of garlic, which is, of course, a positive thing. It almost makes me wonder how different it would be to experience having one of Butamaru’s ramen bowls inside one of Ichiran’s signature flavor concentration booths. The aroma is so strong and wonderful; it’s a shame that it simply escapes into the open air and then disappears into nothingness.
The Shio Ramen’s almost-excellent tonkotsu base is also what’s used in the house’s Shoyu Ramen (P340), which is probably the most beautiful bowl I’ve ever seen. Despite its visual appeal, though, the flavor wasn’t too impressive, mostly because I wasn’t the biggest fan of the broth. Both the Shoyu and Shio bowls also had Butamaru’s signature round pieces of chashu on top, which looks wonderful, but generally didn’t make a lasting impression, mostly because it was cut thin and was also very lean.
When visiting Butamaru, don’t forget to order the Curry Tantanmen (P370), which is now my new favorite version of tantanmen. The spicy peanut and sesame sauce mixed with curry powder felt like a pleasant assault to the palate. Unfortunately, however, the pieces of ground pork it was topped with were a bit dry, and having it in between the thick noodles was a bother.
One of the most notable elements of Butamaru’s ramen, which is evident in all the variants I tried, is the excellent noodles. On Butamaru’s menu, you’ll be greeted with an introduction stating that the Butamaru team went on a month-long pilgrimage to Kyushu, Japan, to learn and master the art of making ramen. The restaurant’s executive chef, Chef Jerome Lim, also trained under Master Artisan Sugimura of the Menko Noodle Company.
That’s why each bowl is filled with a serving of thick, straight, and chewy noodles. It’s not as thick as udon, but it has a stronger presence compared to the other hakata-style noodles I’ve tried in my life. During my first visit, my server asked how I wanted my noodles, and I said I wanted it extra firm to give me time to take pictures without letting the noodles get soggy. On my second visit, the server failed to ask me how I wanted my noodles, but they were still as firm and springy as how they were during my first visit. I later learned that while I usually like my noodles on the firmer side, Butamaru’s is best eaten somewhere between firm and soft so that you don’t have to strain your jaw from chewing (mine might need the workout, though).
Generally, while the food is almost always pleasant, there’s always a key element that throws it a few degrees off-tangent. Perhaps with a bit more editing, Butamaru can become my new favorite ramen joint. But the way it is now, it could still use a bit of tweaking.
The way I started this post, you’d think I was about to write a love story. And truly, I wanted to. I wanted to say how the ramen bowls seduced me with one look and captured me completely after a couple of visits. But it didn’t. Perhaps Butamaru is akin to a person whose Instagram and Facebook photos are totally gorgeous and would rack up a thousand likes in a day, but whose physical traits are totally just fine in real life. Which of course doesn’t mean that that person is unattractive. It’s just that, same as that proverbial photogenic babe, most of Butamaru’s ramen are better at being photographed rather than at being met in person.