It's No Secret Why Crowds Flock to Gomen For Lunch
Stanton: once a stretch of cheap motels catering to theme park tourists before the advent of the 5 freeway, then an industrial-looking, dingy gangland with no "there" there, and now increasingly a city on the vanguard of Orange County's gastronomic revolution. Hyperbole? Perhaps... but there can be little hyperbole when it comes to Gomen, on Katella and Knott, on the edge of the city of Cypress.
Chuuka Soba Gomen is certainly no secret, no undiscovered find lost in the back of some grimy strip mall. Its existence is well-known to ramen lovers, and most especially to employees of the Japanese-owned corporations that have spread southward from Torrance. The badges say Mitsubishi and Bandai, the traditional menu cards hanging from a wood post are exclusively in Japanese (though the menu is in English), and the default language of 90% of people who eat there is Japanese: good omens all.
The menu is nearly all ramen and its accoutrements, with a broad spectrum of ramens available. There are tonkotsu ramens flavored with soy, salt, or miso; there are chicken-based ramens that more closely approximate Tokyo style. While you can get a combination set with decent if uninteresting fried rice, it would be better to just eat ramen and, if you are still hungry and have broth left, to ask for a refill of noodles for an upcharge (kaedama, kudasai).
The tonkotsu broth was excellent. A bit non-traditional, though: there's an elusive flavor at the beginning that gets stronger as you slurp your way through the bowl. Roasted garlic is not exactly in the canonical list of things that enrich tonkotsu broth, but it's a nice addition and lends a buttery flavor to the soup without resorting to even more animal fat. Purists will undoubtedly sniff at this; too bad, eat the non-garlicky chicken broth instead.
The noodles themselves were cooked absolutely perfectly; still springy, but not so much that they seemed undercooked. They came apart with a single bite and they carried the heavy-bodied broth beautifully. The portion was exactly appropriate for the size bowl, which tells me that someone in the kitchen has been studying how to make the perfectly proportioned bowl of ramen for a long time.
The toppings we ordered were all top-notch, though I made a mistake by ordering extra eggs. It's not that the eggs were bad--far from it, they had been cooked twice and yet avoided any hint of chalkiness in the yolk or rubbery texture in the white--but there were better options.
What I should have ordered was extra chashu; it came fanned out around the edge of the bowl, which I initially took to be an unsubtle display of plate design akin to the tortured towers of food from ten years ago. As with most things Japanese, though, there was good science behind the gaudy display.
Through some miracle of butchery, the chashu was sliced absolutely perfectly, so that as a piece slipped down into the hot broth, the pork fat that ringed the edge was nearly instantaneously changed into a quivering mass of collagen, yielding a texture that every Los Angeles restaurant serving braised pork belly would give their eye-teeth to replicate.
I should have added extra vegetables, too; seasonal vegetables, all fresh, with none of the telltale coppery taste of a frozen vegetable. My wife ordered it with hers and I watched with envy as they disappeared.
If I have one complaint about Gomen, it's the bizarre hours that engender long waits; the restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 to 2:30 p.m., and then for dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays only. The waits can be epic and are the subject of nearly every review to date about the place; all I will add is that when we left at 1:15 p.m., there were three dozen empty seats available.
While I rarely lavish unmetered praise on a restaurant, Gomen was a serendipitous shock to my system. I would go so far as to say that I would prefer to eat ramen here, wait times and all, than at Santouka in the so-crowded Mitsuwa food halls.