Long a dorm-room staple, salty, carb-y Top Ramen is both inexpensive and filling -- comfort food for those who lack time or money (or both). The instant noodles in the cheerfully colored cellophane packages have their place, but true ramen is meant to be savored.
Hand-crafted wheat noodles swim in a broth that can only be described as umami -- a "pleasant, savory taste." The noodles may come topped with soft- or hard-boiled eggs, strips of meat, bean sprouts or kamaboko (fish cake).
Naruto is a recent addition to Anchorage's Midtown dining scene. The restaurant offers 10 styles of ramen ($10.50-$12.50), as well as appetizers, sushi rolls and rice bowls. The clean, modern interior is accented with Japanese movie posters. It was a snowy late afternoon when a girlfriend and I arrived for an early dinner, and the interior was warm, cozy and inviting.
Service at Naruto is excellent. Takeout has its place, but customers who opt for a dine-in experience will be richly rewarded with quick service, a gracious wait staff and an overall feeling of being well looked after.
Ramen is the star at Naruto. Diners can choose from the Naruto ramen (halibut, pork and chicken broth), Alaska ramen (halibut and chicken broth) or tonkotsu ramen (pork and chicken broth). All bowls come with egg, green onion and a variety of meat and/or vegetables, but diners also have the option of adding extra toppings, from 50 cents for dried seaweed to $1.50 for "dangerous meat kick" (spicy meat paste).
My friend and I decided on a seaweed salad ($3.90) and squid salad ($4.50), a cucumber sushi roll ($3.50), a spicy tuna roll ($6.50) and the Naruto ramen ($11.50).
Our salads were out in short order and met our expectations. They were on par with what you would get at the majority of sushi restaurants in Anchorage, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The seaweed salad was light and refreshing, with wakame seaweed delicately flavored with rice-wine vinegar, sesame oil and a hint of ginger.
The squid salad held tender bits of squid and crunchy vegetables doused with a light marinade that didn't compete with the other ingredients. Toasted sesame seeds added a nice textural contrast.
The sushi, on the other hand, fell a little flat. It tasted fine, but the rolls were poorly constructed and the tuna was mushy.
We were happy to move on from the sushi to the ramen, which was delicious. My friend, who is halfway through a pregnancy and alternates from wanting to eat everything in sight to being put off food entirely, declared it just the thing she'd been craving. Plentiful noodles swam in a rich broth that was brightened with green onion and bean sprouts. Slices of pork were melt-in-your-mouth tender without being mealy.
I popped in a few days later for some takeout, this time opting for the tonkotsu miso ramen ($12.50). Naruto's ramen is all about the broth for me. By itself, the soup is good. Fortified with the spicy meat paste and green onions, it is very good. With the boiled eggs mixed in to lend the soup more unctuousness, it is delicious.
It stands to reason that in a town where new pho joints seem to crop up daily, a ramen spot would thrive dishing out steamy bowls of deliciousness throughout the long winter. Diners who want to upgrade from instant noodles and foil seasoning packets but still want comfort-food familiarity would be wise to check out Naruto.
By Carly Horton Stuart
Daily News correspondent