It was a bitterly cold afternoon when I went to the new JINYA Ramen Bar downtown to interview owner Dave Soparkdithapong.
“Great ramen weather,” Soparkdithapong said with a big smile.
Apparently so. At a time in the afternoon when most restaurants are nearly empty, JINYA had a nice crowd slurping up bowls of hot ramen. When we had dined there on an equally frigid weeknight, it was packed.
JINYA is a franchise restaurant, but only 20 are in the chain so far. Most of the others are located in larger cities, such as Houston, Austin, Los Angeles, San Jose, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
It was started in 2000 in Tokyo by Tomonori Takahashi, whose father owned a restaurant in Japan. Following a subsequent trip to the United States, Takahashi opened his first restaurants, starting in California.
“I came across JINYA in Houston when I worked in the oil and gas industry,” Soparkdithapong said. “I thought I could bring something new to Tulsa and thought JINYA would be a good fit.”
JINYA’s menu includes some salads, small plates, tacos, rice bowls and desserts, but it is the ramen that takes center stage.
We had the Sprouting Up ramen ($12.95) and the chicken ramen ($10.95). We had a choice of 20-plus items to add to the bowls for a modest additional charge, but we liked the makeup of the dishes as they were presented on the menu.
The Sprouting Up ramen included pork chashu (slices of braised marinated pork), kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), spicy bean sprouts, green onion, half of a seasoned egg, Brussels sprouts, black pepper, noodles and ginger in a pork-and-chicken broth.
The chicken ramen included spinach, green onions, fried onions, noodles and chicken chashu in a chicken broth.
The broth in the Sprouting Up was richer and thicker than the chicken broth, and both were tasty. The Sprouting Up noodles also were thicker than those in the chicken ramen. The slices of chicken and pork were tender.
Those who devour their noodles and other goodies in the bowl before finishing the broth may order a fresh batch of hot noodles ($2.50) for the remaining soup.
JINYA offers a variety of mild and spicy ramens, including vegetarian and vegan, and all are served in big, colorful, cone-shaped bowls imported from Japan.
We also shared a quinoa salad ($6.50), pork gyoza appetizer ($5.90) and panna cotta ($4.80) for dessert.
The salad was a vegetarian mix of baby greens, green kale, broccoli and white quinoa tossed in a mild sesame dressing, corn and cherry tomatoes. It had a nutty, fresh flavor.
The pork gyoza featured six small dumplings wrapped around ground pork. The table had a jar of gyoza sauce made specifically for this dish. The main ingredients most likely were red wine vinegar and sesame oil with a touch of hot sauce.
Jessica Rodrigo, the World’s food writer, reported the takoyaki ($7.50), battered octopus over egg tartar topped with kewpie mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, green onion and smoked bonito flakes, is worth a look. Soparkdithapong said it has been a big seller, too.
We ended the evening with an order of panna cotta, a rich, thick, creamy custard with caramel cream sauce, bits of graham cracker on top and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
The beverage list includes teas, sake, a few wines, cocktails and craft beers on tap.
JINYA has a sleek, modern look with lots of brick and wood, a bar area with a television, counter seats to the open kitchen and a communal table, in addition to tables and chairs.
Depending on where one sits, lighting might be a little dim to easily read the menu. I used the light on my phone for the small print.
Our main server, Hannah, was training a new staffer, Robert, and they did a superb job.
When guests enter the restaurant, the staff yells “irasshai,” or “welcome” in Japanese.
To that we say “arigato,” or “thanks.”