Gaku Ramen (Burlington, VT)

Since we live a little over an hour from Burlington, we tend not to do a lot of late night dining around town, since it’s often easier to grab something in Montpelier or the Upper Valley on the way home. But our recent trip had a staying a night in the very pleasant Hotel Vermont (which has a truly fine beer bar in the lobby), and between our earlier event with friends from the FOM and having a night cap at the Hotel Vermont bar, we decided to do a late evening stroll down Burlington’s Church Street, checking out the late night shopping and dining options. A lot of Church Street’s options close at 9, but a few places keep going for quite a while. While we almost got drawn into Ken’s Pizza (itself worthy of a review at some point), as we got to the south end of Church Street I remembered a place that’s been on our hit list for a while: Gaku Ramen.

One of the more delightful food trends that’s happened in US markets is the notable increase in ramen shops. I’ve always enjoyed ramen as a light dinner option, since it is a nice, lighter dinner option that’s satisfying in the same way a good bowl of chicken soup is: a nice rich broth, hopefully teeming with both meat and garlic flavors, and texture, with noodles that are still slightly chewy and soaking up the rich broth. Done well, it is awesome. Unfortunately, up here in Northern New England, fads like this arrive late, and often “adjusted for New England palates” (read, bland and poorly executed), and unfortunately, while a few places closer to me nominally have ramen on the menu, it is usually a disappointment (why pay $10 for a ramen bowl that’s not even as good as Shin Black Instant Ramen?). But I had heard several good things about Gaku Ramen, and Burlington in general seems to have rather good Asian food, so I figured I’d give it a try.

Right off the bat, Gaku Ramen pleased me by having one of my favorite appetizers available: grilled shishito peppers. Yeah, it’s another one of those current food fads, but it’s another one I love: an entire plate of nicely grilled, thin-skin shishito peppers, for the perfect combination of sweet, hot, and salt. Gaku’s version was grilled exactly to the amount of char I like, and I could eat several plates of these, and these were actually a pretty good deal at $7.

Of course, the real reason we came here was for the ramen, and I decided to go for my standard ramen order: tonkatsu ramen with black garlic. This is your basic pork broth ramen, with noodles, a bit of stir-fried pork chashu, wood-ear mushroom, scallions, bamboo shoots, and some chopped black garlic. For the basics of ramen, this was rather good. The broth was very flavorful and pork-flavored, obviously having been long-simmered, although it’s a bit lighter than most of my favorite ramen tonkatsu broths. The noodles were nice and springy, and still a bit toothsome, but doing a good job of absorbing the broth. The chashu had a good sear on it, and good marbling between the lean and fat bands. Overall, this ticked all the boxes I expect of a tonkatsu: a good, rich broth, nice textures, and a good overall combination of sweet, salty, and savory flavors.

Carol opted instead for the chicken shoyu ramen, and had a similar ramen bowl to my own, just with a lighter shoyu broth, and with chicken chashu instead of the pork. While picking up a bit of a milky appearance from the chicken, this did have a nice, clean shoyu broth that we both rather enjoyed, and was also a solid bowl of ramen.

Overall, I liked Gaku. Was it in the same league as, say, Ramen Parlor? No, but it was still a rather enjoyable bowl of ramen, probably the best between my home and Montreal. Some quality sides, decent prices, and decent hours, and I wouldn’t hesitate to come back the next time I’m in Burlington.

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