Let's face it; everyone has an opinion when it comes to food. My circle of dining companions is no different, particularly since it involves chefs, the spouse of a Cheese-Wenchy chef and the publishers of this magazine.
We gathered on a Saturday afternoon at one of my very favorite restaurants in Oklahoma City. In 2016, partners Rachel Cope and Jeff Chanchaleune opened Gorō in the Plaza District. Their take on a Japanese favorite, along with small plates from their Izakaya-style menu, has kept them busy ever since.
Our mission on this particular day was to determine which of the four ramen dishes was our favorite. Predictions of the results were all over the board. From "We need an uneven number of judges because there will need to be a tie-breaker" to "Whatever, I know you will all pick my favorite because it is obviously the best." We didn't know what to expect. I must admit that the results were not as the group as a whole predicted. There was a clear winner, but not one that many in the group would have guessed.
After sharing some snacks—including the Brussels Sprouts Salad, Chicken Kara-age and Pork Belly Nikuman—our ramen arrived. It was time to put our judging faces on.
Rich chicken broth, pork belly, menma (bamboo), fried garlic, ajitama (egg), negi (green onion)
Rich chicken broth, roasted garlic miso, pork meatballs, corn, menma (bamboo), ajitama (egg), goma (sesame), negi (green onion)
Vegan broth, tofu, roasted tomato, mushrooms, fried shallots, negi (green onion)
Chilled ramen, sesame dressing, shrimp, surimi (seasoned cured fish paste), mustard greens, menma (bamboo), negi (green onion), fried shallots
All judges were offered the house-made Garlic Chili Bomb (because we like ourselves, and it is delicious) as well as extra noodles, because who wants to run out of noodles while sharing food?
What followed is best described as a feeding frenzy. I am happy to report that no eyes were injured by a chopstick defending a favorite bowl, and there was plenty of excellent ramen to go around.
The Judges: (pictured from left to right in the group photo)
Steve Richards – Administrative Director, Historic District Lifestyle
"The Yasai Vegan is smooth and comforting like Grandma’s chicken soup—amazingly delicious!”
Brandon Burt – Owner, Suburban Contemporary Furnishings; Mr. Cheese Wench
"I do love slurping the best noodles in town, even though I realize the saddest part of the meal will be the empty bowl in front of me. Always best to get a second order to go!"
Joel Bein – Chef, Rub Food Truck
"All the ramen we tried were very good, including the vegan bowl, but my favorite was the chilled one."
Amanda Jane Simcoe – Editorial Coordinator, Historic District Lifestyle; The Cheese Wench
"I LOVE my job, even if it IS hazardous to my waistline. This place is one of my favorite hazards"
Bobby Mathis – Publisher, Historic District Lifestyle
"Those chilled noodles are just one big bowl of heaven."
Joshua Officer – Photographer Extraordinaire
Each judge awarded points based on their overall rank of the dishes. Four points awarded for their first pick, three for the second, two for third and one for fourth.
Tori Paitan: 10 points
Spicy Miso: 18 points
Yasai: 10 points
Chilled Ramen: 22 points
One verdict was unanimous: There was not a bad bite of food on the table. Each dish had something unique to offer, and each judge was surprised in some way. Three of us who had long held other favorites recently saw them bumped into second place by another we hadn't previously tried.
Our photographer and the sixth judge noted: "I've always loved ramen, especially on cold, rainy nights, but "Cold Ramen" blew me away. Since the dish doesn't have broth, the other ingredients have to carry the flavor. I found it refreshing, satisfying and a flavorful alternative to hot versions. Now, I have ramen for whatever mood I'm in."
I think the takeaway is that while it is great to have go-to dishes, there is always room to try something new at any restaurant. Grab a group of friends and share several items on the menu. You never know what new favorite you might discover.