757 Doesn’t Suck: Norfolk Ramen at Chin’s Cafe

It’s time for another edition of 757 Doesn’t Suck.  This week we’re headed to Chin’s Cafe for their weekly restaurant-within-a-restaurant, Norfolk Ramen.

I came across this place completely by accident.  During weekend downtime I tend to lounge around on a family-oriented internet forum about cats and knitting.  They have a subforum dedicated to food which I pop into every two weeks or so when I want to drool over photos people take of the things they’ve cooked.  It really is amazing how many people keep a DSLR in their kitchen.  There was a thread titled “Norfolk Ramen” and, like anyone who has a chip on their shoulder about living in a medium-sized metro, I just assumed it had something to do with the Norfolk in the U.K.  As it turned out, the thread was about Chin’s Cafe on Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk, VA – served me right for assuming otherwise.  Every Sunday Chin’s serves a selection of ramen noodle bowls in addition to their regular menu and call it Norfolk Ramen.

My only exposure to non-Maruchan ramen has been on the Food Network, so I had to try this.  I pulled up their Facebook page and at 8:00 p.m. the previous Sunday they had run out of ramen and it was 7:00 p.m. already, so I gave them a call and they assured me they would still have some when I got there.  I hopped into my car and drove as fast as I could up the most Cop/Fed/ICE/Military Police-infested drag in Norfolk, Hampton Boulevard, keeping an eye out to my left for the Ruby Tuesday’s that Google Maps said was in front of it.  I walked in and looked at the counter by the door.

“Picking up a takeout order?”
“Have a seat.”

Chin’s Cafe is a family-owned Chinese restaurant – vaguely Chinese-looking stuff on the walls, 80s-tastic cash register in the front, random TV off to the side – and looked very clean.  The Norfolk Ramen menu was clipped to the front of the regular menu and offered four choices: the Norfolk Bowl, the Vegetarian Bowl, the Rice Flour Dumplings, and the Cold Tofu Sashimi.  I’m not a vegetarian, but it was nice to see three solid-looking choices that didn’t include meat.  Some restaurants pile on the meat to make up for other shortcomings.  Of course, being an omnivore, I opted for the Norfolk Bowl.  In their words:

Fresh Ramen in hot Tonkotsu broth topped with Char Sui, pickled ginger, nori, scallions, mustard greens, and a sous-vide egg.

The Norfolk Bowl - yes, that's an egg

I have no idea what Tonkotsu or Char Sui are, but the Norfolk Bowl was delicious.  After bringing me the bowl the server came back out with chopsticks and a soup spoon.  Here’s the thing about me and chop sticks – I can pick things up with them.  Years of sushi-eating have given me a pretty solid ability to pick up solid and semi-solid objects with them.  Noodles in broth, however, present a challenge.  I haven’t had much exposure to it in Hampton Roads, so I had no practice.  Now maybe there’s some technique that doesn’t consist of getting some noodle into your mouth and sucking like a hoover from there.  In fact, there probably is and I’m just ignorant.  Grab-and-suck was pretty much my only weapon so I probably looked like an idiot eating it.  But you know what?  It was so good I didn’t even care.

There’s something magical about gooey egg yolk mixing into hot broth, slithering in between noodles as it cooks, and getting pulled out of the bowl with greens and sesame seeds hanging on for dear life.  When the noodles and char sui were gone, I had a fantastic broth soup to finish.  I did my job and left that bowl empty.

I enjoyed my first Norfolk Ramen experience very much.  I’ll be returning to try the other three choices for sure, probably starting with the Cold Tofu Sashimi.  I’m a sucker for creative tofu.  The only negative thought I have about Norfolk Ramen is that it will be two weeks before I have a chance to go back.  I am eager to see what kind of improvements they make to their already-tasty ramen.

Norfolk Ramen is another reason why 757 doesn’t suck.  Check them out next Sunday.

Norfolk Ramen, c/o Chin’s Cafe – 8401 Hampton Blvd, Norfolk, VA 23505

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