Restaurant Review: Biwa (and Ramen!)

This past Monday night, Jonah and I decided to head out into the city to get some food. We’ve both had a cold for a little while now, so we were riding the wave of Asian soup. Saturday night we went to Thai Peacock (a funny little Thai place by Powell’s with the best Tom Ka Gai I’ve ever had), and Sunday night we made pho (and decided the pho at Mekong, the place a block from our house, is superior to anything we could ever make ourselves). I’d read in the Portland Monthly Best Restaurant edition that Biwa is the place to go for ramen, and had been wanting to try it since.

Lucky for us, because it was a Monday night, it wasn’t packed. That being said, there were a couple large parties waiting for tables, and Jonah and I opted to eat at the bar to avoid waiting because we were super hungry. We pretty quickly decided on what to order, choosing to stick with familiar dishes since we were both sick and not feeling terribly adventurous. Jonah got a housemade ginger soda (which I was jealous of and of which I probably drank at least half).

I must say, that while ordering, I noticed that the restaurant has a little bit of a boys’ club vibe. All the cooks and all but two waiters were men, and I felt a little funny being a girl. The men were all very stereotypically “Portland”: facial hair, flannel shirts, skinny jeans, tattoos. I felt a little out of my element, which was odd to me. That being said, our waiter was very nice, though quick and with a very dry sense of humour (or maybe he was being serious… I couldn’t really tell).

We ordered the cucumber sunomono (vinegared cucumber salad with shrimp and seaweed), agedashi tofu (my favorite Japanese dish, fried tofu in broth), and of course, a bowl of ramen.

Ramen at Biwa
A beautiful bowl of delicious Biwa ramen.

The cucumber salad was delicious. Thinly sliced cucumbers with seaweed doused in delicious vinegar with huge juicy shrimp… Oh my goodness. I could have eaten a few of those and gone home happy. It was light and refreshing. I want to go back on a hot summer’s day and eat that dish. The agedashi tofu was also magnificent. Much lighter than most of the agedashi tofu I’ve had before: the tofu was more delicate, the batter was much lighter, and the broth tasted less “packaged,” if that makes sense. It was unique and delicious. I love soaking the crispy fried tofu in the broth and letting it soak up the flavor. Yum.

Now onto the ramen. It was delicious. The noodles were amazing, just the right texture, and very fresh tasting. The meat was some thinly sliced pork and was actually largely fat, which sometimes throws me off. But this fat had a wonderful texture that just fell apart in your mouth and tasted so rich and delicious. One thing I wasn’t crazy about, which I wanted to be crazy about, was the egg. The shoyu egg, which I think means they’ve been soft or hard boiled and then cooked in soy sauce, was a little…sweet? I’m not really sure what the taste was. Perhaps it’s just that I wasn’t used to the preparation of it, but I wasn’t a crazy big fan. The broth of the soup was good, but about halfway through the bowl, both Jonah and I were chugging our water because it was so salty. It was so salty that we almost asked our waiter if it was supposed to be like that or if it was over-seasoned or something. I can appreciate some salt as much as the next girl, but it was pretty extreme. But still delicious. Just… in smaller doses.

Overall, I was happy with our meal at Biwa. Next time I want to be a little more adventurous and also want to try their other noodle soup (udon. yum.). The atmosphere was nice, and the food was delicious, particularly the small plates. I would definitely recommend it for a diner who is interested in more traditional Asian cuisine with a touch of flare.