Fast Food

Haru Ramen (and sushi) creates bright spots inside familiar fare | Food & Drink


The spicy tuna Temptation Roll holds a bit of jalapeño heat.

Haru Ramen replaces Mobo Sushi, which went dark during the pandemic. New proprietors Khua Maung and his wife Ni Iang took over the lease in December, remodeling extensively before opening in April. They significantly brightened the space, which offers a small tatami seating area plus booths and an array of tables that stretch past a sushi counter to a decorative foyer.

Though ramen’s the eponymous Haru dish, the majority of the menu’s actually still sushi items. Hence that bar, but we dine at the booths both visits, receiving notably excellent service from both our server and Iang, who touches tables between making the sushi. Maung runs the ramen service in the back kitchen.

There’s a few items that set Haru apart from its Japanese peers in town, which I’ll get to, but first it’s worth learning a little of the owners’ backstory. Both Maung and his wife grew up in Burma, immigrating to the States together later.

My first question is why not cook Burmese food, because the Springs scene lacks it? Maung at first says he’s not an expert in the cuisine, so wouldn’t want to serve it. But more importantly, they’re actually Chin people, an ethnic minority in present-day Myanmar who’ve been persecuted by government and military forces dating back to the early 1960s. According to online sources, the Chin have endured everything from unlawful arrests and forced labor to tortures and killings, spurring an international refugee migration. Maung says there’s large communities now in U.S. cities including Dallas and Indianapolis.

So yeah, no Burmese food. “Our cooking is different,” he says, noting mountainous regions the Chin inhabit. But in the States, Maung and Iang have pursued Japanese businesses, operating sushi franchises in both Gunnison and Glenwood Springs over the past six years. In 2020, he went out to L.A. to learn the craft of ramen, during a week-long intensive, from a chef named Kenichi Ota, who he wished to thank: “It’s a life-changer,” he says. Ota taught him how to prepare fresh broths daily: four tonkotsu (pork) options plus a chicken and an already popular vegan vegetable broth. “We cook today for tomorrow’s ramen,” he explains, noting the good aromas and flavors that come from resting.

He’s not making his own noodles — who has time for the labor required? — but buys decent (not exceptional) commercial products. Some bowls get a white wheat noodle, others a yellow egg noodle. Both are a medium size (a little thinner than at many spots) and hold up well in the broths, which is to say they don’t sog but retain a decent toothsomeness.

I take a Noah’s Ark approach to my dining, getting two items from each menu category. Starting with drinks, that means a South Korea-imported soju — which is a rice-based, clear spirit that I adored during my trip there; call it a cousin to sake for simplicity — and a fine sake named Snow Beauty. That’s an unfiltered (nigori) sake with a velvety milky texture and supposed coconut and rice pudding aromas, which we don’t quite get but nonetheless enjoy the sips. I wish more places would serve soju, as it hasn’t gone mainstream around here, and I also wish there’d been an unflavored bottle at Haru, as the Good Day brand citron flavor lands a little sweet for me, tasting otherwise quite lemony and sour-edged.


Haru’s black garlic tonkotsu ramen

From a section of rice bowls, I get a full-sized unagi don, topped with the sweet, sesame-seed-garnished eel strips, green onion choppings, perfectly ripe avocado slivers and a chopped surimi (krab) salad that makes for a fish version of coleslaw. It’s elegantly simple, as is a mini spicy tuna bowl (only $5 compared to $14-$16 for the entrée sizes), with the same avocado and green onion relishes but a pretty generous portion of minced tuna with a little bite to it. I love this option for a mini bowl. Maung confesses he got the idea from a guy in Texas, and he finds it versatile in that it could sub in for an appetizer or be a side to a main dish, or even a kid’s option.

Onto sushi, I order the Colorado Springs Crunch Roll and Temptation Roll, both just average for the Springs marketplace. The first benefits from a wasabi smudge and soy sauce dip despite the topping drizzle of spicy mayo and eel sauce; it’s got a crispy fried onion garnish with tempura shrimp, krab and avocado inside. The similarly sauce-dressed second, with spicy tuna, avocado, cream cheese and jalapeño inside, plus a crunchy jacket of fried panko, could dial back the cream cheese for my tastes, but I do like the lingering pepper burn on my lips.

Finishing with the ramen: I get the tonkotsu spicy and tonkotsu black bowls. Until the final broth spiking comes into play, their setups are the same: braised pork belly (chashu), green onion, fermented bamboo shoots (menma), marinated egg (ajitama), sweet corn and bean sprouts. For the spicy, chile oil does the trick to create a nice smolder across the palate while I still get to taste the umami porkiness in the substantial and rich broth, and taste the other staple components. Those add a layering sharpness and sweetness, from the corn, a particular treat on the last bites/sips at bowl’s bottom. 

For the other, exclusive-to-town (as far as I know) tonkotsu bowl, a black garlic oil colors the broth a neat squid-ink black. I have to clarify with Maung what he means by “black garlic,” as I think first of the aged bulbs — sold at Gather Food Studio, where I attended a whole class around the ingredient — which undergo a temperature- and humidity-controlled aging process that renders the typical sharpness more sweet and leaves cloves soft and tacky textured. Turns out that’s not what he’s using.

Instead, he pan fries minced garlic in sesame oil over a few stages of flash heating and cooling down. If I’m understanding correctly, that would be to not overly toast it at any point and create unpleasant, burnt garlic flavors. But instead to delicately dance around the Maillard reaction by slowly converting the sugars and blackening the allium.

Anyhoo, the result makes for a splendid bowl of ramen, big with garlic, but again, not the sharp kind of garlickiness that bites the tongue and hangs around on the breath. Rather, think about a caramelized garlic almost, that’s residual sweet and kinda earthy and muddy as it folds into the pork bone broth’s silky collagen texture. I’m a big fan.

“Haru” means “spring” and “sun,” and it’s fair to say Maung and Iang have indeed brightened this space. 

Source link


Your email address will not be published.