Monday, September 04, 2017

Setsunai - Ramen fusion meets farmland on Lopez Island

Ramen is truly global when it reaches beautiful Lopez Island - part of the San Juan island chain near Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. With roughly 2000 residents in 30 square miles, and only accessible by ferry or seaplane, Lopez harkens back to a world where you grow your own food, swap furniture with neighbors, and the north and south parts of the island play pranks on each other for April Fool's Day.

The island has no traffic lights and only a half dozen restaurants - most of which are casual bakeries and ice cream shops. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Setsunai, a newly opened ramen shop in Lopez Village.

If you're looking for traditional ramen with rich tonkotsu broth, Setsunai is not it. However, what you will get is a truly delightful noodle bowl, made with love and the flavors of the Pacific Northwest.

The setting is pure Lopez Island - wooden picnic tables, mason jars, bus your own dishes, and virtually no signage in a galvanized metal structure. 




The menu is simple. Ramen, udon, or soba noodle bowls - and because it's the Pacific Northwest, even a gluten free rice ramen option. The chef and owner, Josh Ratza, has his roots in pickling, fermentation, and pepper sauces - and you'll see these influences throughout the menu.

Let's start with the good. The noodles are absolutely amazing. Handmade, chewy, fresh, perfectly sizes, they are the foundation for a delicious ramen bowl and Setsunai nails it. Served in a light dashi broth on a hot summer's day, I could taste the earthiness of the local mushrooms, the saltiness of the ocean, and the freshness of the noodles.


To be fair to ramen lovers though, I'd probably call this "fusion" instead of ramen. Setsunai serves its bowls with spinach instead of nori, pork shoulder instead of chashu, and white boiled eggs. The addition of the fermented cabbage dominates the flavor of the otherwise light and balanced broth, however, it also brings much needed dimension to a pretty tame interpretation of what's traditionally a rich and hearty bowl.

Overall I really enjoyed the ramen at Setsunai. Even though it's not a traditional ramen, it was perfectly interpreted with local ingredients and for the local population - and a delightful lunch. A wonderful place to enjoy freshmade noodles and the delicious broth, and a very welcome addition to the culinary scene on Lopez Island.

Setsunai, 45 Eads Lane, Lopez Village. Open Thursday - Monday, 11 AM - 4 PM.

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