Sweater weather is finally upon us, and my husband and I find ourselves craving a bowl of ramen. We truck into downtown Raleigh and plant ourselves at the sushi bar at Sono. Under normal circumstances we would indulge with several orders of nigiri, but this Saturday night, we have only tonkotsu in mind.
Sono used to serve ramen only on Sundays, but now serves the noodle soup every day. The generous bowl of tonkotsu ($15) at Sono is adorned beautifully—a kaleidoscope of menma, kikurage, scallions, ajitsuke tamago and several taut rounds of charsiu. Plunge your chopsticks into the glistening, opaque and creamy broth dotted with black garlic oil and you might find, like we did, that the aesthetics don’t match what you might expect. The straight ramen noodles, while bouncy and slippery, lack a glutinous chew.
The absence of a nuanced depth of flavor from the oleaginous broth, arguably the most essential part of ramen, is quite noticeable. After several slurps, I begin to suspect that the broth from simmering pig trotters overnight (or pressure cooker) may have been diluted or muddled by a liberal use of tare and dashi. The addition of the chili sauce only masks the indiscernible rich, umami pork flavor. And, the charsiu, while tender and generously abundant, are sliced thickly into circular slabs, making it unwieldy and difficult to eat. The composition makes for a visually pretty façade, but the tonkotsu ramen makes it clear that Sono may excel in sushi over ramen.
I’ve had ramen at a comparable price point over the last two years at some of the ramen-yas around the States (San Francisco’s Mensho, New York’s Totto, Ippudo, Momofuku and Momosan) and the ramen at Sono pales well in comparison. Well-executed ramen in the mid-sized city of Raleigh still, sadly, remains elusive.
SONO | 319 Fayetteville Street, Ste. 101 Raleigh, NC 27601 | 919.521.5328