Japanese noodles done right
In the United States, most people associate ramen noodles with those 10-cent bricks sold in bulk at the grocery store, a college freshman’s go-to snack. For those familiar with authentic Japanese ramen, this is somewhat like comparing a Wagyu burger to a McDouble, or Oaxacan tlayuda to one of those orange, Dorito-shelled numbers from Taco Bell. In a word, heresy.
Gaku Ramen, a new restaurant in Boulder, has plunked itself down in the middle of a college town to strike directly at the heart of fake, mass-produced ramen’s key consumer demographic. Gaku, which opened its first shop in another college city—Burlington, Vt.—in 2016, serves bowls of its signature dish cooked according to meticulous Japanese techniques (two of the three owners have lived in Tokyo, and one still does), with traditional starters like shishito peppers ($7.50), edamame ($5), and a Japanese fried chicken called karaage ($8.25) available to accompany the mains.
On a recent visit, I started things off with an order of the pork buns ($7.50), slabs of pork belly inside bao-style flour pockets that come topped with slices of pickle and radish for a little crunch. Be warned: These, and other appetizers, could make a meal all by themselves. If you’re able to resist ordering a second helping (the table next to me wasn’t), you should have plenty of room for a bowl of the Tonkotsu ramen ($13)—the star of the menu—with pork broth, generous shavings of pork chashu, kikurage mushrooms, and julienned bamboo shoots. I opted to add black garlic for a dollar more, making the deeply savory dish even richer, a far cry from the packaged stuff. Additional options include Chicken Shoyu ramen with ginger oil and a softboiled egg ($12), Miso ramen with miso butter and scallions ($12), a selection of rice bowls ($8.75 to $14), and a range of Japanese whiskies behind the bar.
As if this weren’t enough to feel good about, through Oct. 14 Gaku will be donating 10 percent of all Monday sales (from 5 p.m. to close) to nonprofits. Some of the beneficiaries, which rotate weekly, include the Denver Children’s Home, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley, and Girls in STEM. —Andrew Weaver
1119 13th St., Boulder
A community landmark, refreshed
Golden’s new Buffalo Rose, on a corner that once housed a Chinese laundry, a fancy swimming pool, a bowling alley, and one of the state’s oldest bars, nods graciously to the old Buffalo Rose while giving the latest generation of Goldenites something worth cheering.
“We still have the patio,” owner Chris Cone pointed out on a busy June Saturday night. Then he flipped a switch, and a retractable roof over the central bar began to open. Patrons gasped and gaped. “It’s not the perfect night for it,” one said. “But it’s very cool!”
We had dinner that night presided over by two old buffalo heads in the warm and lively dining room, sitting by the window and amusing ourselves watching passersby engage with the bronze buffalo sculpture out front. Some of the food wasn’t perfect, but the experience was very cool, made all the more enjoyable by our eager-to-please server, Robert.
The newspaper menu, including spirited articles about the 18-month renovation, the bar manager, and executive chef Jan Vonada, sets the tone for Cone’s vision for a place that draws in the community. It’s a simple menu, with six shareables, four salads, seven sandwiches, and five entrees. A kids menu offers five more options.
We loved our cocktails, the smooth, beautifully balanced All My Ex’s margarita (other options include the blue-green Paradise City margarita, all $9), and the Aztec Old Fashioned ($10), with a hint of chocolate from Xocolate bitters. Robert told us the Chorizo Jalapenos ($9) have been the hit of the shareables, but we went to the Aztec Caesar and Watermelon Quinoa salads. At $14 and $13, the first with chili-rubbed top sirloin alongside and the second with giant jalapeno prawns on top, these were entrees for most people.
We went on from there to the Bison Ribs ($21) and the Pan Seared Salmon ($17), ample protein portions nicely flavored from their accompaniments. I liked the way the Hatch chile broth brightened up the salmon, especially with a glass of the Mondavi Bourbon Barrel Chardonnay ($12).
After dinner, Cone pointed out 19th-century glass block, 1800s pine, old brick, and other historical elements incorporated in the design, and walked us into the connected, two-level concert hall. Upstairs, there was the bar from the old Buffalo Rose. In gleaming new surroundings, it looked right at home. —Susan Fornoff
1119 Washington Ave, Golden