Michelle learned to love ramen as a teenager growing up in Singapore and traveling around Asia with her family. Brian is newer to the scene: He didn't even try instant ramen in college. Together, they're hunting for DFW's best ramen.
The Shop: Shiawase
The Atmosphere: The spirit of Las Vegas is alive in Allen. Shiawase is an over-the-top palace of Japanese food: gigantic chandeliers, black-and-white, sparkly tile walls, bold red lighting along the sushi bar. The sushi chefs shout greetings whenever anyone enters or exits the restaurant. A well-stocked bar glows against the restaurant's back wall. Want a mint after dinner? There's a candy jar that could fit a bowling ball, filled with mints and studded with lollipops. They have seven flat-screen TVs.
There's not a single soft surface in the restaurant, so try to arrive at a quieter hour or your eardrums will be tattooed by the constant shouting of the waitstaff. At one point, servers brought birthday cake to a lucky customer, then surrounded the table in a scary-close circle and smacked a tambourine while singing "Happy Birthday." As we left, the sushi chefs enthusiastically yelled goodbye at us.
Shiawase is also slightly louder, but more family friendly, because they have a kids' menu. Choices include teriyaki, udon, a crab roll and "popcorn crawfish." Maybe the screaming toddler we heard was upset because he couldn't order something dumber and more American, like Godzilla-shaped chicken tenders.
The Service: We didn't have time to take in the glittery tile or sparkling chandeliers until we got past the beaming, syrupy hostess who was super!excited! to seat us and very concerned about our comfort. She was overbearingly friendly, fitting in perfectly with the over-the-top atmosphere. After she got us to our table, she walked around and held all the other customers' babies.
Despite feeling trampled by that rainbow-pooping-unicorn-drawn wagon, we were actually impressed by the service. The hostess warned us a table is too small for four people ordering a lot of food, and she was right. Our waiter was attentive without being obnoxious. And you could probably go ask the sushi chefs to yell at you some more, if you're into that.
What We Ordered: We brought along some friends to try some extra stuff, including one of Michelle's high-school classmates from Singapore. The table's orders: miso ramen, shoyu ramen, the Beautiful Lady sushi roll, eel sushi, salmon sashimi and a seaweed salad.
In general, all the food at Shiawase is very expensive, but also huge. Up to $17 for a specialty sushi roll? We were skeptical, and borderline grumpy, but man, this sushi is gigantic. Each piece is the size of a fist, and jam-packed with seafood, with almost no rice filler. (The Beautiful Lady is so-called because it comes wrapped in pink soy paper.) Consider us impressed. This is one place where you can order sushi and feel genuinely, painfully full.
The seaweed salad and sushi are addictive, but not the sashimi. That's a weak link.
The Ramen: Like everything else at Shiawase, these bowls of ramen are jam-packed. You can feed a family of four with the miso ramen, piled to the very rim with noodles, pork, bamboo shoots and narutomaki (those pink swirly fish cakes that confuse ramen newbies). We went home with a couple big tubs of extra ramen for breakfast and midnight snacks. If you finish your bowl, you deserve some kind of prize. Maybe the chefs can shout at you.
The ramen was beautifully presented. The waiter laid out a four-piece service, including a shaker of pure chili powder if you need extra spice. The ramen itself is solid quality, though the only exceptional thing is the size. The miso broth was flavorful and hearty, but there wasn't enough of it to properly slurp. It was more like a noodle bowl with a thin sauce, especially after we eagerly swallowed a few spoonfuls. Granted, after soaking up some broth the noodles got pretty freaking delicious. We preferred the shoyu ramen: It's a real soup and more flavorful. The broth was aromatic and meaty without being overly salty.
We disagreed about the noodles at Shiawase, so we're gonna write the next couple lines separately.
Michelle: The noodles were just a bit limp, making the texture fine but without that addictive, must-eat-more quality that causes us to keep stuffing ourselves despite being full enough to hibernate through winter.
Brian: Honestly, I had no problem continuing to stuff myself with more noodles. Oops?
Pro tip: Take your ramen leftovers home. After a day or two in the fridge, the aromatics really blossom, especially the ginger.
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Recommended if: you want to feed your entire bachelorette party with one bowl of ramen, and/or you enjoy ritualized shouting.
Shiawase, 2540 North Watters Road, No. 100, Allen, 214-383-4462. Seaweed salad $6.50, miso ramen $12.95, shoyu ramen $12.95, most specialty sushi rolls $13.95-$16.95.
Previously on our hunt for great ramen:
Sushi Robata's Ramen Is So Good They Could (but Shouldn't!) Rename it Ramen Robata
Slurping Up Maki Boy on a Hunt for DFW's Best Ramen