At first sight I would never have even thought of stepping into this little Japanese restaurant. The place does not strike to me as some place posh. In fact, it is a little bit icky when you step into the restaurant. The floors just seem like they are covered in grease and I would no doubt refuse to put my precious bags on them, the tables are not exactly pristine clean specially when you are not the first to have occupied them, and the walls I dare not even touch.
It is through my cousin’s recommendation that I sort of reluctantly agreed to have dinner at Nao. After all, it was almost the end of night shopping hours; most places have already closed their kitchen and the restaurant next door was way worse than this shabby place. Plus I was very, very, very hungry that anything to feed my hunger would suit me just fine.
We placed our orders just in time before Nao’s kitchen closed. It was too hard to choose what to order partly because Japanese food is not among my favourites and the menu is quite worn out which did not help convince me that food here will be good. Anyhow, what made this shabby little place special was that they make their own ramen. And not just 1 type. They come in 3 flavours: egg, chilli and spinach (or as they call it: yellow, red, green). Any place that makes their own “raw ingredients” is, in my opinion, convincing enough to give them a go. And this I do not regret.
I ordered the “Spicy miso chicken ramen with red noodles” and it was darn good. The noodles were al dente (as the Italians would describe it) and they tasted nothing like instant ramen noodles. Even though it’s called spicy miso and I had the chilli ramen with it the noodle soup was not spicy at all (and that’s coming from me, who is not a big spicy dish eater). All ramens come with bamboo shoots, nori, sesame seeds, and the meat of your choice. On my first visit I was really disappointed to see that I was given only 3 thinly sliced chicken pieces. The disappointment quickly fades though once you slurp that first spoonful of soup. The second time I was there I had the “Spicy miso chasu ramen with red noodles” which was exactly the same as the chicken one except for the meat of course. If you are too health conscious I’d say go for the chicken, or seafood. The chasu is indeed like American bacon. It is thinly sliced pork meat with a big layer of fat encircling it. The spicy miso soup was a tad too salty for my liking (and again, this is coming from me, the sodium queen) so by the 3rd time I went there I opted for the regular miso soup instead and it was divine. It was just the way miso soup should taste like and just the right amount of sodium (or miso paste) was added. The dish is served in an oversized bowl that makes your noodles and soup seem little. But don’t be fooled. For an average of $10.50, you will leave feeling really, really full specially if you ordered takoyaki or gyoza on the side and managed to woop those down too!
Speaking of takoyakis and gyozas – these are 2 notable Japanese entrees that you must try if you think you have enough room in your tummy to fit them all in. The takoyaki comes in 6 pieces, a little bit smaller in size than the ones you get from other Japanese restaurants. Size doesn’t really matter to me since I can barely eat them anyway after having my ramen but it is worth a try. They are served by the friendly staff as soon as they come off the takoyaki pan so you can be guaranteed that they will have a crunchy outside and a steamingly hot inside. The same goes for the gyoza. You eat them as soon as they come off the grill but that means you have to wait for maybe 20 minutes for a plate of 4 gyozas. They came after I was halfway done with my ramen (and if you know how fast I eat you will know that this is indeed a long time to wait for an entree). And the presentation was not as good as it should have been. The gyozas clearly got stuck to the pan/grill as evidenced by the missing bits of the skins and they seemed to have been cooked in a non-wiped previously used pan as evidenced by the burnt black bits sticking to the skin. If the taste wasn’t good then this was unforgivable but the taste was indeed good so I would no doubt order this again.
Needless to say, I was taken by surprise with Nao. It went from a barely noticeable restaurant to a Friday favourite of mine. I now usually stop by Nao for dinner after work on Friday nights before embarking on my shopping spree (in hindsight this is probably not a good idea because you won’t be able to fit into anything after finishing off that tasty bowl of ramen).
My rating: 6.5/10
*photos from Nao’s website