I’m a pretty lucky guy—my sister came over for Family Weekend, and my parents forced her to take me shopping (viva la Target!) and treat me to lunch. I’d been craving genuine Asian food lately, so on Sunday afternoon, we chatted with my big and his mother over some ramen. The drive to Albany was only 15 minutes, so we quickly arrived at the restaurant. Tanpopo Ramen and Sake Cafe is located in a slightly renovated old-fashioned diner, which gives it its own distinct feel. Somewhere between quaint and desolate, the diner had its charm, but the location was remote enough to make it feel slightly strange. Upon entering, we were quickly seated at a booth, which felt small but cozy. After a while, any feeling of being removed from civilization was washed away, and it felt like there were just the four of us.
The menu was decent, though the mere sight of fried crab rangoons, a fusion dish, made me shudder. But the ramen selection was respectable, with dishes such as tonkotsu, miso, roast duck, and even a vegetarian-friendly option.
We started out with edamame, and my big and I got pork belly and roast duck buns, respectively. Edamame is edamame, but it was a bit pricy at five dollars for a bowl. And although they’re traditionally a Chinese dish (for those who don’t know, ramen is Japanese), the mantou buns were very good; they were soft and sweet, and I didn’t get any hint that they were freezer food. I personally didn’t get the roasted duck because I would go to an authentic Chinese restaurant for quality duck, but my big confirmed it was good. I can absolutely attest to the pork belly bun—it was a small portion of meat, but it was sufficiently fatty, with some crisp on the lean meat. The vegetable, which I think was scallion or green onion, added texture; the sauce was a classic hoisin flavor. At seven dollars for two, I thought this was a nice treat.
My choice of ramen was the tonkotsu—a pork bone marrow broth with chashu pork, scallion, fish cake, and kikurage mushroom. First, and most importantly, the broth was solid, satisfying, and piping. However, it had a flat spice that seemed like black pepper, and it lacked the strong fragrance that I expected of a bone marrow broth. The noodles were perfectly good, as were the toppings. In retrospect, I realize they replaced the fish cake with corn, but I was perfectly fine eating it; it’s still upsetting, since a dish should reflect what is stated on the menu.
Overall, the food was well-put together. The buns were a pleasant surprise—probably the best part of the meal—and the ramen was satisfying; it’s not the most authentic, but we’re in the Capital District, not Asia. If you’re craving an Asian snack beyond what Red and Blue offers, it’s definitely worth checking out.