Restaurant review: Satori Ramen Bar successfully transports North Market diners to Far East
Expounding on the state of sudden, profound enlightenment that Zen Buddhists call “satori,” D.T. Suzuki — the late, great Zen scholar and teacher — said that attaining satori is like being with God before God proclaimed, “Let there be light.”
You’re unlikely to have such an experience while dining at Satori Ramen Bar — unless noodle soup is something wholly new to you — but you’re likely to enjoy everything you taste at the lively little place.
Serving since summer in the southwestern segment of North Market, Satori Ramen Bar is run by someone who knows a thing or two about Japanese food: Head Chef and owner Seigo Nishimura, a Tokyo native and graduate of the Tokyo Sushi Academy. Nishimura, who formerly worked at Cagen, a Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant in New York, moved to Columbus partly because his wife is from Ohio.
The relocation looks to be going well. Nishimura’s appealing fare frequently entices eager customers to join long lines at his often-hopping eatery.
Food is served in compostable containers (to-go ramen components are separately packaged), so patrons who can’t find an open stool at Satori’s 14-seat counter can ferry their comestibles upstairs, where several tables are available. Pro tip: Adult beverages are available at nearby The Barrel and Bottle, which is happy to accommodate thirsty North Market shoppers arriving with food.
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If you do sit at Satori’s counter, you’ll get a close-up view of an efficient crew working hard — and generally producing rapid results — in a shiny, largely stainless steel kitchen. Unlike many other fast-casual setups, if you order an appetizer from the compact menu, you’ll receive it before your ramen entrée, though it might not completely jibe with its description.
The Karaage small plate ($6.50) I received had four pieces rather than the advertised five, and rather than being “lightly breaded,” the fried dark-meat chicken strips (served with a provocative, soy-spiked chimichurri sauce) featured thick, delightfully crunchy breading. Despite being slightly misled, I’d order this again in a minute.
It took about a minute to wolf down Satori’s little Chashu Bun ($4.50). The fun-sized relative of the pulled pork sandwich teams a warm and pillowy steamed Chinese-style bun (aka “gua bao”) with a lusty slab of pork flattered by greens, Kewpie mayo, pickled ginger and soy sauce.
More succulent pork — Satori’s cooks often use a blowtorch to give their tender, marinated pig meat a smoky sear — enhances the Tonkotsu ramen ($12). This soulful soup joins pork slices with loads of appropriately firm (and locally sourced) house noodles, sesame seeds, a nori strip, noodle-shaped wood ear mushrooms, pickled ginger, scallions, a boiled “ramen egg” with a custardy yolk, plus a nuanced pork broth with the desired milky appearance.
If, like me, you request a three-out-of-four heat level, Satori’s house-made chili sauce can overshadow the rich pork broth in the Kara Kapow! ($13). This spicy, spot-hitting noodle soup is also boosted by chopped pork, scallions, a good ramen egg, plus a delightful pile of stir-fried cabbage, bean sprouts and chives.
A couple pieces of still-crisp karaage arrive bobbing in a salty but soothing chicken broth in the Paitan chicken ramen ($12). While somewhat simpler than the pork-based assemblies, this is a fine bowl of chicken noodle soup.
Satori’s Veggie Shoyu ramen ($10) doesn’t need meat to be interesting. It’s a light-but-satisfying combination of house noodles, pliant rice cakes, fried lotus-root chips, asparagus, soft grilled tofu, salad greens and a flavorful, soy-scented veggie broth.
The Abura Soba ramen ($10) doesn’t even need broth to succeed. Its delicious chopped pork, shredded nori, noodles, scallions and sprouts are effectively sauced with an “onsen tamago” — a slowly poached, silky egg. Eating this might not be enlightening, but it’ll be enjoyable.