- Griffin Swartzell
- We dig the house special ramen for the variety of items in the bowl.
Located in a former Bhan Thai, Oka’s owned by chef Edi Yanto of nearly 3-year-old Ramen Master in Fort Collins. Worth noting, the menus for Oka and Ramen Master don’t overlap much. Oka has no hibachi, no sushi menu, no Thai menu, and no liquor license. For those who need them, Oka offers vegetarian broth and gluten-free rice noodles, so nobody’s ordering salad unless salad is what they want.
The lunch menu offers $7.95 ramen bowls, three or four bucks cheaper than on the night menu and still plenty filling. We try tonkotsu ramen, served with a soft-boiled egg, a thin slice of fish cake, julienned wood ear fungus, baby bok choy, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. We skip pork, chicken and $2-extra flank steak for fried tofu triangles.
There’s no denying the porky depth and unctuous texture of the tonkotsu broth. Made from pig bones, tonkotsu broth is supposed to be near-opaque and buttery-to-creamy in texture, the result of pork fat emulsified in the broth with gelatin from the bones. It’s by far the best part of the meal. Unfortunately, the egg, supposedly soft-boiled according to the menu, bears a chalky, unpleasant yolk due to overcooking. The noodles chew a hint tough, but the flavor’s nice, and we’re told they’re house-made.
We have another problem with overcooking at dinner, when we start with an appetizer plate of takoyaki — the octopus within chews rubbery, though, credit given, there’s a nice ginger zing. We also try the soft shell crab, a whole crab, deep fried and served under Japanese mayo and a brown sauce we’re told is called “pako sauce.” More novelty than nourishment? Maybe, but the meat’s pleasantly flavored, and the tomalley (internal organs and fat) adds a little extra depth of flavor within the body of the crab.
At dinner, we try the house special ramen and the spicy tan-tan ramen, both of which come in a broth seasoned with miso paste. The former’s certainly a pleasure for the eyes, featuring a snow crab leg perched atop an island of fried shallots, seaweed, pork, chicken, shelled mussels, fish cake, a shrimp ball, wood ear fungus, bok choy, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and a soft-boiled egg, plus corn, which isn’t listed on the menu. The fish cake’s fine, and we find the shrimp ball a little dense and chewy. Again, the egg’s boiled past hard and into unpleasant territory.
We’re happier with the spicy tan-tan ramen, mild to medium on the spice charts but rich, with chili oil, Sichuan pepper and sesame paste adding depth and richness to the miso broth. The kitchen’s out of menu-listed minced pork, so we go with crumbly dark-meat chicken.
If there’s a detail that tells Oka’s story, it’s our green tea: perfectly good, but it comes in a to-go cup, even when we’re dining in. The product’s good, but there’s a lack of polish and attention to detail. We do praise restaurants for the basics with some frequency. But good broth isn’t enough to buoy Oka up out of serviceable territory and into the genuinely impressive.