Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Update on ramen at Bento Zanmai in Boulder
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Update on ramen at Bento Zanmai in Boulder

Bento Zanmai on the Hill in Boulder serves up tasty real ramen.

We returned to Bento Zanmai today and got some good news: the shop, which operates out of a tiny food court on The Hill in Boulder, just across the University of Colorado campus at 13th and College, has extended its hours.

The joint used to close up at 6 on weekdays and 3 on Saturdays. It unfortunately still closes at 3 on Saturdays (we got there just in time after seeing an early — and cheap — showing of Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” movie, a post to come). But it now stays open until 8 pm on weekdays.

Joe Simonet, the affable young hapa who’s a corporate officer of the Sushi Zanmai restaurant corporation that owns Bento Zanmai as well as Amu, the izakaya next door to Sushi Zanmai that’s currently our favorite Japanese restaurant in the region, chatted with us about Bento Z.

They extended their hours because although Bento Zanmai was opened as a Japanese restaurant that could serve the student population with its low-price menu of Japanese comfort foods and simple sushi offerings, non-student diners were monku-ing (“monku” being the Japanese word for complaining) that they couldn’t make it there in time for dinner if they worked. Especially if they were driving up from Denver.

And to please the same diners, Bento Zanmai has expanded the hours it serves ramen.

Originally, the ramen was served only from 3 pm-6 pm, but demand led to the chewy egg noodles and three types of soup (miso-based, soy-based the time-consuming pork-based “Tonkotsu” broth) being served all day. That means the staff has to come in pretty early to start the pork broth, because it takes many hours of simmering to get the meat flavor infused just right.

The ramen isn’t on the main menu or the menu board. There’s a ramen sheet available on the counter with the choices of broth and extras. We ordered the “Ultramen” size (nice pun, guys) with double the ramen, and ordered the Tonkotsu soup with chiarshu pork slices on top. The ramen costs $6-10, which is why it appeals to adults, not students.

Joe says the students who come in think it’s crazy to spend more than 10 cents for 10 packages of instant ramen at the supermarket. In fact, Joe says the most ardent student customers are the Japanese students at CU, who appreciate the authentic cuisine, despite the food court trappings. Since he speaks fluent Japanese, Joe can make the foreign students feel at home (except the woman who disagreed with him about the al dente-ness of his noodles).

Today’s ramen wasn’t as awe-inspiring as the first time, but I chalk it up to pork broth that could use a couple more hours of steeping. Joe explained the restaurant’s been off-schedule because of a surprising increase in business since re-opening after a holiday break. He said they actually sold out of ramen a couple of days.

So he advises anyone driving up from Denver after work to call ahead to make sure there will still be ramen left by the 8 pm closing time: 303-4-BENTOS.

By then, the broth should be good and tasty … and perfect comfort food for the winter season.