Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Un-Leftover Friday: UnderBelly
I spent last Tuesday-Thursday in my kitchen, getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner. So by Friday, I was dying to see the sun again and have something not-Thanksgiving-ish for lunch. I’ve also been dying to try UnderBelly, the brand new Nate Stanton/Arsalun Tafazoli venture on the corner of Fir and Kettner in Little Italy. UnderBelly’s look is as spare as its menu. Eight appetizers, five bowls of House Ramen.
The first need-to-know is that there’s no sign on the outside of the building. It’s inside the door, on the ceiling. The second is that you order your food before you walk in the door. The third is the no spoons policy. (More on this later).
There’s a pretty decent beer menu, I’m going with Lost Abbey’s Avant Garde and the UnderBelly bowl, and John opts for Ommegang Gnomegang with the Belly of the Beast bowl. Both come with standard toppings of a soft-boiled egg, bean sprouts, ginger, scallions, seaweed and sesame seeds. We order oysters to split.
When our food arrives, it’s on a half-sheet pan. Our bartender explains that, because of their no-spoons policy, you can safely pick up your bowl and drink from it – no one in the kitchen touches the bowl before it’s delivered to you. I'm no Howie Mandel, but I can appreciate not having to lick someone's handprint.
The oysters are briny and sweet, complemented by lightly pickled watermelon and mignonette sauce. My UnderBelly bowl has char-siu pork belly, applewood smoked bacon and kurobuta sausage. The broth is great, light, refreshing and complex. It doesn't just derive it's flavor from salt - this is a broth that's well thought out. And while I usually think posting pictures of your half-eaten food is pretty gross, I’d be remiss in not showing off the perfectly soft cooked egg that added a nice rounded touch to the whole thing. The noodles were also beautifully cooked, firm to the bite, not mushy in the slightest.
John’s Belly of the Beast was even better. The nicely chewy oxtail dumpling, tender smoked brisket and hoisin glazed short rib all tasted beefy and distinct. The dish was balanced and homey.
I don’t know if UnderBelly’s ramen is authentic Japanese ramen. I’ll leave that to someone with more ramen experience. I do know it’s delicious.
750 W. Fir St.
San Diego, CA 92101
Hours – Mon-Sun 11:30 am – 12:00 am
Credit cards accepted.
Street parking only.
No reservations taken.
Need to know: Order your food at the door. Menus will be on the counter to the right, near the entrance.