For Tomoharu Shono, the goal is simple: Give San Franciscans a taste of truly authentic Japanese ramen.
Shono, who speaks very little English, is a "legit ramen master," says Abram Plaut, a Bay Area native he's teamed up with to launch Mensho Tokyo in the Tenderloin. Shono is the creator of the Mensho ramen chain, which encompasses six shops in Tokyo, all featuring diverse themes and different, expansive menus.
Fluent in Japanese, Plaut has lived in Tokyo for 12 years and makes his living reviewing ramen shops for a local magazine. Going by the name Ramen Beast, he's eaten thousands of ramen bowls so far, and estimates that he tests at least 200 different shops each year.
Shono (left) and Plaut (right) inside the upcoming Mensho Tokyo at 676 Geary St.
Plaut met Shono 10 years ago while reviewing the first Mensho ramen shop, and after years of tasting his creations, he offered to use his Bay Area connections to bring the business to San Francisco, where people are having a love affair with "Californian-ized noodle soups called ramen," Plaut says.
Between learning the ins and outs of the local restaurant industry, adjusting recipes according to what ingredients can and can't be found here, and patching up the building's facade after a car rammed through it just days before the original opening date in December, getting Mensho Tokyo up and running hasn't been easy. But they haven't faced anything they couldn't overcome, Plaut says.
Shono and Plaut wheeling more supplies into the shop.
To ease their way in, Mensho Tokyo will launch publicly this Saturday evening with just a few types of ramen and a selection of sides.
For meat eaters, there will be tori paitan, which Plaut describes as a thick, creamy soup made by boiling chicken bones, including the feet and wings. It's similar to tonkotsu, the most popular Japanese ramen being served locally, but lighter, given that it uses chicken bones rather than pork bones. "I think it'll be a big hit," Plaut says.
There will also be two types of organic chicken ramen — one with a soy sauce base and the other salt-based — and maze hitsuji, a noodle dish with a sauce made with ground lamb, spices and nuts rather rather than soup.
For vegan diners, they'll be serving tantanmen, a traditional Chinese-style vegan ramen using sesame and chili oils.
As for sides, expect items like fried chicken karaage, and kale ohitashi, a dish made with boiled kale and red cabbage.
Given the focus on authenticity, don't even think about calling Mensho Tokyo for take-out orders of ramen. It's meant to be eaten immediately, otherwise the flavors and consistency change, Plaut says. In Japan, it's customary to eat quickly and go, and with 28 seats total — four at the counter and 24 across four communal tables — Mensho Tokyo's SF location will run similarly. (They will, however, pack orders of side dishes to go, and provide take-out boxes for diners who prefer to take their leftovers home.)
Eager neighbors should note that Mensho Tokyo will be hosting a private soft opening for friends and family this Friday evening. Your first chance for a taste test will be from around 6pm to 11pm on Saturday, Feb. 6th. Starting the following week, regular hours will be from 5 or 6pm to midnight on weekdays, and 5 or 6pm to 2am Fridays and Saturdays. An expanded menu and lunch service should roll out in the coming months; the restaurant is located at 676 Geary St.
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