The decor is chic and modern, with seating for maybe a couple dozen people packed in tight. The place is small and the kitchen is small. This is an authentic little ramen shop so be prepared to cozy up to your neighbors.
Now, the menu will surely evolve and expand, but when I went for the soft opening last week there were four ramen options. I was with Mr. Betty, South Austin Foodie, and Sugarfoot Eats, so we tried all four. There are two major things that set Daruma apart from the other ramen places in town. One, it is run by a woman. Two, the broth is not pork-based. These are both appealing.
The Shio is a clear, very intensely chicken-y broth. Toppings are simple and the noodles were bouncy and had the perfect amount of give. I found myself wishing for a flavor bomb or some mayu to give it a little something.
The Shoyu has the same chicken-based broth mixed with seafood stock. It had great depth of flavor while still maintaining the meticulous clarity and lightness.
The Miso was the favorite among my group. It was the most flavorful of the broths. Don’t let the opaqueness fool you, this was still as light as could be. Where ramen broths tend to be bold and often fatty, Daruma is doing something different. I love the variety and complexity of each of our ramen places. There is so much labor that goes into making these broths and it’s a beautiful thing to sit in front of a steaming bowl and taste the love. Not to be a total hippie about it.
And finally, the most interesting of the broths, the Veg Ramen. Which is actually vegan. The most difficult and time consuming broth to make, the layers of flavors are achieved by slowly leaching the essence of many vegetables and fruits. Yes, fruit! While not sweet, I was able to detect the fruit up front, with a clean vegetable finish. The rainbow of toppings will make this a clear favorite among vegans and veggie lovers, who often miss out on complex broths.
I believe the woman’s touch is evident in the devotion to lightness and clarity of the broths. It is unique in its style and presentation, and while it may not be for everyone, I predict it will have a solid fan base who favor the lightness.
When Daruma settles in and adds some sides and tweaks to the menu, I will make a return visit and reevaluate. I encourage you to go visit Austin’s newest noodle friends and give them a try. Be prepared to wait in line outside and know that you are taking part in centuries old tradition. The wait for ramen is time to reflect and focus on your hunger, deepening your appreciation for this art in a bowl.