The season for soups is nearly upon us. And although I could sip and slurp a steaming-hot bowlful in almost any weather, fall will confer must-have meal status on Medford’s new Tosu Ramen & Sushi.
The newly expanded, updated space next to Medford’s Asia Grocery Market has housed several run-of-the-mill sushi restaurants over the years. Shining the spotlight on ramen was long overdue locally.
Authentic ramen is more about broth than noodles. The one-note broth typically passed off as ramen in area restaurants hints at seasoning packets, likely reconstituted with water once customers place their orders. Spicy versions attempt to compensate for anemic flavor.
Tosu touts the traditional "tonkotsu" or pork-bone broth. Diners can request the basic broth ($12), or pay $1 more for a spicy version or an infusion of black garlic oil. The fermented bean paste known as miso offers another bone-broth variation at the same price. A vegetarian soup ($12) also comes with spicy and black garlic options ($13 each).
Noodles constitute most of each bowl’s bulk, but "chashu," slices of pork belly, are standard in all but the vegetarian version. Shiitake mushrooms are mainstays of the miso and vegetarian soups, while a hard-boiled egg intensifies the tonkotsu ramen’s richness. An array of toppings — from bamboo shoots to butter — can be selected from a list of extras for $1 to $3 apiece.
Pork belly couldn’t compel me nearly as much as the tonkotsu’s hard-boiled egg or the miso’s inimitable savor. Ultimately, the miso’s mushrooms and corn kernels exerted a stronger pull on my palate than the tonkotsu’s bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. I made my miso “black” ($13) with the addition of deeply caramelized garlic distilled into oil. My colleague chose the vegetarian miso ramen ($12).
Originally conceived as fast food in Japan, ramen isn’t the only dish with street-side roots on the Tosu menu. An appetizer of "takoyaki," fried octopus balls, ($6) couldn’t be passed up. I grinned when my colleague picked grilled shishito peppers doused in sweet soy sauce ($6), my second choice.
Comprising five balls to an order, the takoyaki certainly deserve all those raves from food-travel show hosts. Similar to French "beignets," the balls were nicely crunchy on the outside with custardy insides suspending chewy bits of octopus. Drizzles of Japanese mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce, along with a dusting of dried bonito amplified the dish’s umami quality.
Next to those decadent fritters, the grilled shishito were subtle. I likely would have enjoyed them a bit more if the skin had displayed more char.
The black garlic oil, by contrast, had a slightly smoky flavor that nearly overwhelmed the nuances of my ramen’s broth. That didn’t keep me from tipping the bowl to drink it once I’d devoured the noodles, meat and assorted veggies.
Marinated and braised, the fatty chashu also comes tucked into steamed buns ($7 each) and atop a rice bowl ($11), a concept prominent on Tosu’s menu. "Chirashi" ($17) layers sliced, raw fish in a bowl of sushi rice. Tuna or salmon poké comes on either rice or green salad, topped with a choice of crab, seaweed salad, scallions, flying-fish roe, avocado or furikake (Japanese seasoning blend).
A full complement of sushi rolls, nigiri and sashimi also is available, priced from $4 to $15. Tempura, pot stickers, egg rolls and their ilk supply that fried-food fix.
At 213 E. Barnett Road, Tosu Ramen & Sushi is open from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays and from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Call 541-245-1178.