By: Alexander Ehasz, Columnist
Even on a weekday afternoon, Belvedere Square Market is buzzing with activity. Patrons of every description – college students, families with young kids, professionals in stiff suits conducting interviews, and many more – order from an equally diverse range of food stalls including bakeries, cafes, and even a smoked meat purveyor. One immediate stand-out amongst these eateries is EJJI Ramen. The storefront is adorned with paper lamps hanging from metal pipe fixtures, a rustic wood counter, and an array of unusual drink options stacked by the register. It appears innovative but grounded in tradition, a theme that the food clearly reflects.
The first appetizer I ordered, the Mac and Cheese ramen dog, is a hot dog rolled inside a layer of ramen noodles mixed with cheese. This whole parcel is battered in tempura and then fried and served with a side of apricot wasabi mustard. The outside was extremely crispy and flavorful, reminiscent of a fried wonton. The hotdog inside was very high quality, beefy and spiced with notes of celery and pepper. The mustard apricot sauce was an inventive twist on honey mustard which countered the richness of the hot dog and cheese with a bit of spice, sugar, and tartness.
The gyoza were nothing special. The cabbage-based filling was bland and watery. Had the mushroom and jicama been more prominent, this would have been a much stronger dish. The sauce was a straightforward blend of vinegar, soy, and a few aromatics. While this sauce was potent, it could not save the bland dumplings.
After the appetizers came the Tonkotsu Porky Ramen. The broth was creamy and deeply savory. The dominant pork flavors were complimented by aromatic herbs and spices as well as a splash of sesame oil. The noodles were on the thinner side for ramen and pleasantly chewy. The fried pork belly was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender inside. Also served with the soup is a portion of shredded braised pork. The bowl was rounded out with a marinated soft boiled egg, a piece of seaweed, scallions, and baby kale. The whole dish was packed with flavor but still balanced and nuanced.
As for prices, appetizers were on the more expensive side given their portion sizes. At $6.95 for vegetable filled gyoza, I would have expected more than 5 small dumplings. At $7.95, the ramen hot dog was also relatively pricey for a single piece. The ramen, at $15.95, is certainly fair given the range and quality of the components, and similar prices from competitors.
While the dumplings were not as good as they could have been, the hot dog or ramen alone would have made the visit worth it. Service was top notch; both of the cooks were conversational but professional and clearly proud of what they make. If you visit with friends or family, there are also plenty of other shops for them to choose between, and market seating to seat a group together. Overall, the atmosphere, location, service, and especially the food at EJJI Ramen makes for a great dining experience.