Fifty-cents-per-meal instant noodles have tarnished ramen’s good name. For too many Americans, ramen acts as the gastronomic equivalent of abject poverty; it is fuel of the guttersnipe, the last resort of last resorts—a final admission that life has won and you have lost. Friends, colleagues: it doesn’t have to be this way.
Just ask the management of OKI Bowl DC & Sake, a ramen restaurant located just outside of Dupont Circle. Offering four rice and four noodle-based ramen dishes alongside a host of authentic Japanese appetizers and beverages, OKI specializes in the kind of food that Americans have bastardized long enough.
Their most popular dish, Curry Ramen, is a delight. Large enough to keep your Tomagachi alive for decades on a single feed, OKI’s Curry Ramen predominantly features tender fried chicken and pickled cabbage in a savory curry broth. Spicy but not overwhelmingly so, sweet but not saccharine, the Curry Ramen balances a host of complex flavors with the skill of a trapeze artist made of really good ramen. Taste it, boys, flavor load comin’ atcha!
Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold true for the fried oyster tempura, another option on the menu. Eating this dish was a bit like biting into a pen, as the taste of ink was overwhelming; the accompanying dipping sauce did not mitigate this, as the sauce tasted remarkably similar to the oysters themselves. Though the mouthfeel of this dish’s crispy tempura shell and fleshy oyster center was unique, texture is difficult to enjoy when your mouth is drowning in Sharpie juice.
OKI’s service wasn’t exceptionally good or bad, but they did commit one egregious act: my meal was served approximately two minutes after the appetizer. Amateur move, OKI, amateur move.
The restaurant itself was lined with a chaotic amalgamation of faux-tarnished metallic décor. With the only consistent elements to OKI’s ornamentation being the color silver and wooden birdhouses, the restaurant’s interior resembled the love-child of a fishing cabin and a T.G.I Fridays. It’s a bit jarring, so stay away from this place if you’re a militant aesthetician.
A wide, albeit pricy, selection of microbrews, wines, and, sakes are available at the bar. Illuminated black lights and ostensibly vintage light up letters that spell OKI (just in case you forgot where you were), the bar is sleek, hip, and would make for a novel night on the town.
Ultimately, come here if you want ramen. The restaurant is clearly ramen-oriented, and nothing else was impressive enough to warrant my approval. Ramen is in their name (“bowl,” dummy), it’s by far the most predominant dish on the menu, and it’s delicious. They put all their eggs in one basket, and it was the right basket. Great basket, OKI, love that basket!
OKI Bowl DC & Sake
1817 M Street N.W.