Ramen — a delicious bowl of noodles in savory broth — is loved by many. Now, those in Claremont can enjoy it as well, at a restaurant with a fresh take on the delicious meal.
Originated in Japan, ramen has made a large mark in the food industry in the United States. Personally, ramen has always been one of my favorite foods. I grew up eating ramen in China, Japan, and now California. So when I heard about the new ramen restaurant, Ramen Lounge, opening in the Claremont Village, I knew nothing could stop me from trying it.
I sat down for an interview with owner Mark Perone and chef Leo Dinglasan in the small restaurant, illuminated by cascading string lights. Perone is also the owner of Union on Yale, an American restaurant in the Village. Dinglasan cooks at both Union and Ramen Lounge.
They had discussed opening a new restaurant for a year and a half, Perone said, and agreed that they would serve ramen. However, instead of traditional ramen, they decided on fusion ramen to make it “a little more casual, a little more contemporary.”
Dinglasan elaborated on the choice to serve fusion, saying they wanted “to stay authentic to who [they] are, and not to what the cuisine is.”
While their restaurant is inspired by Japanese food, they are not looking to be authentically Japanese. Rather, Perone and Dinglasan want to take advantage of the different flavors and ingredients California has, and use those ingredients to make their food delicious to their standards.
“This is truly fusion food,” Dinglasan said. “We use traditional techniques, but we use ingredients that are local to us.”
Both Dinglasan and Perone are from Southern California, the birthplace of Asian fusion. Southern California itself, Dinglasan described, “is the melting pot of culture.” Both embrace fusing styles of food from the variety of cultures that exist in the area.
For example, they are currently working to develop a brisket ramen that is a combination of Korean and Japanese cuisines.
“We want to provide an experience where the things we do [are] incomparable to everyone else,” Dinglasan said. “We use techniques that no other Japanese restaurants are using.”
Ramen Lounge’s name is characteristic of who they want to be. When Perone and his team bought the property, it came with a bar and liquor license. Perone wanted to create a space that felt like a casual club, where people can relax while enjoying great food and drinks.
Ramen Lounge, unlike most of the restaurants in the Village, closes at midnight, and the team is considering extending their hours later, to accommodate the ‘casual club’ atmosphere. Furthermore, because the majority of restaurants in the area close around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., Ramen Lounge wants to accommodate all the people working in the Village as well as college students.
“Around here, by 9 [p.m.] to 10 [p.m.], everything closes, and you’re forced to eat McDonalds and fast food places that aren’t necessarily good or what you want,” Dinglasan said. “It’s nice to have another option.”
Ramen Lounge is always looking to expand their menu, but they want the public’s opinion on what dishes to add.
Dinglasan said he has cooked at Union for six or seven years and has learned that the Claremont community is “fiercely dedicated to the things they like on the menu”; because of this, “the menu is going to grow and evolve as far as the customers want it to.”
“There are a lot of things we’re working on, but we want to make sure the public is ready for it,” Dinglasan added.
Perone recommended the restaurant’s steamed buns, filled with chicken katsu or pork belly. The pork belly dish came in a pair, with each soft bun held in place by a samurai sword. The pork was soft and succulent, and the umami of the meat was well balanced with the tangy sauce and pickled red onion.
The tonkotsu was a must-try for me. The broth was rich and creamy, while the pork was less traditional than usual. Instead of a soft pork belly, you get a piece of braised pork with a crispy exterior. It definitely had an interesting texture and flavor.
For a lighter option, the shio ramen hits the spot. It also happened to be Dinglasan’s favorite. Fresh noodles sat in a combination of chicken and dashi broth, topped with fresh vegetables and pork belly. The spicy option had a kick of spice that instantly warmed me up.
What impressed me the most was the freshness of the ingredients. For both ramen dishes, colorful vegetables were arranged neatly across the noodles, including corn, bok choy, and green onions. The freshness elevated the dish, both in presentation and taste.
Ramen is a dish that never fails to delight and warm my heart. Ramen Lounge’s take on Asian fusion ramen is no exception. It’s unique, authentic to its philosophy, and comfortingly delicious. For those searching for a unique take on traditional Asian food, Ramen Lounge does not disappoint.
Stephanie Du is a biology major at Scripps College. Her hobbies include cooking, traveling, and eating all kinds of foods.