A couple of weeks we were rambling around town on a food and drink tour with some friends from out of town, having wings at Pok Pok, oysters at Eat, and wine at Tesoaria, we rambled by this ramen bar and I took a mental note to return. It was bustling with guests at 2 in the afternoon on a Monday and I knew that had to be a good sign.
Due to celestial happenings beyond my control, The Great American Eclipse of 2017, I took a little time away from my ramen quest. And now that we have seen the sun disappear (we live in the PNW though and the sun disappears somewhere in October not to return until some time in May) it's time to get back to the search.
On the corner of Failing and Williams streets in North Portland, nestled in an enclave of shops, next to one of my favorite oyster joints is Kayo's Ramen Bar. Kayo's is a cool and hip spot with a crisp and clean aesthetic, a brilliant bright red wall and chalk art. Directly in front of me is a Geisha slurping her noodles from a deep bowl and eyeing me from over my shoulder is a giant, ominous Samuri coveting his bowl of noodles while he stares longingly at his love. There is a hypnotic beat filling the space as I drool over the menu.
Presented with a ramen menu, specials menu and full page Sake menu, I'm taken back as to my choices, but I cannot deviate. I'm here for the ramen... and maybe a drink. The staff is attentive, but unobtrusive as my order is taken and my cider is poured. Moving about in harmony, the staff take care of the few guests and clean as they move, but what I really like are their t-shirts. I was so tempted to buy some swag while I was there, soft cotton tees in all the right colors.
My noodles arrive!
I ordered the Tan Tan Ramen, their most popular bowl described as a 'uniquely Japanese version of Sichuan DanDan Mian flavored with sesame paste'. The approach at Kayo's is to choose your ramen style, choose your broth, then the noodles (or veggie noodles) and then any add-ins. To stick with consistency I went with the pork & chicken broth and Kayo's classic #47 noodle, plus I added an egg for good measure.
I couldn't resist but to taste the broth before I stirred in the pastes and seasoning and I am glad that I did.
Fantastic! Rich and creamy with a deep nuttiness from the sesame that coats the tongue and rests quietly on my palette. Savouring the taste I think to myself, "I might have found it!" And then the pepper hits and fills the back of my mouth with a heat that warms my breath and has me enjoying my cider even more.
Not wanting the temperature to cool any I quickly stir in the pastes and seasonings and the broth is transformed into a next level experience, a complexity that can only be achieved through slow, deliberate cooking and the right combination of heat and flavor. The egg yolk still a little runny and it's velvety goodness permeating everything.
Grabbing a pile of noodles with my red chopsticks I slowly slurp them in, enjoying the chewiness and flavor. Dee-lish! Koya affectionately call their noodle #47 because it took 47 tries over 3 months to get it just right. And it is just right.
The ground pork is soft and melts in my mouth as I pull spoonful after spoonful of soup and eaters into my mouth. Slurping and savouring every bite.
I was almost a little sad when I made it to the bottom of my bowl. My ramen experience at Koya's coming to an end. This was a fantastic find! And one I will come back to again.
Kayo Ramen Bar gets 🍜🍜🍜🍜and 3/4 out of 5!