Noodling at the sushi bar
by Johnette Rodriguez
1084 Hope St., Providence, 276-7574
Open for lunch Tues-Fri, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner, Sun 5-9 p.m.; Mon-Thurs, 5-9:30 p.m.
Fri-Sat, 5-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Going to a Japanese restaurant, especially one that offers sushi, can be taxing
for Geminis like myself; So many choices, so many decisions. But the college
students and neighborhood regulars at Ran Zan have already found their
favorites on the menu of this year-old eatery, and they stick by them.
From a list of 20 appetizers, one RISD student exclaimed over the ohitashi,
spinach topped with shaved dry bonito ($2.75). Another touted the nutritional
virtues of soybeans as she described her recent addiction to edamame, fresh
green soybeans, boiled and salted ($2.75). And all around us, small orders of
tempura ($4.75) floated by -- light batter-fried shrimp balanced atop a few
similarly prepared vegetables.
Most intriguing to us, however, was the ship of sashimi and sushi that sailed
onto the next table, a chef's choice ensemble called arashi yama ($29.50). The
wide decks of a three-foot-long wooden model of a fishing boat held
approximately a dozen selections of nigiri-sushi , slices of fish or seafood
atop a leaf-shaped portion of vinegared rice; sashimi, the thicker-cut pieces
of raw fish that everyone associates with the term sushi; and maki, the
rice-and-friends rolled in sheets of nori (seaweed) and sliced into colorful
We couldn't resist the fanciful dragon roll ($7), an elaborate maki with
grilled eel and cucumber wrapped in nori, rice and finally slivers of avocado.
Though sliced into eight rounds, the roll is left standing, slightly curved,
with a garnish of cross-cut octopus tentacle for a three-eyed effect and a tiny
bit of carrot for horns. This dragon was every bit as tasty as it was fun to
The other maki we chose was also new to us, a tempura roll ($5), with one
shrimp tempura smothered in a spicy hot sauce and tucked inside the rice and
seaweed layers. Both maki were accompanied by the traditional palate-cleansing
pickled ginger and the head-clearing green wasabi , a very hot Japanese mustard
paste -- just a little dab'll do ya.
As a main dish, Bill ordered the chicken teriyaki ($9.50), served with rice
and a soup or salad. After much hemming and hawing over tempura dinners, udon
noodle combos and katsu entrees (pork, chicken or fish breaded and deep-fried),
I settled on vegetable yakisoba ($6.50) along with agedashi dofu ($3.50), large
chunks of crisp-fried tofu in a gingery soy sauce.
The broiled chicken chunks in a tangy, sesame teriyaki sauce were accompanied
by broccoli spears and carrot chunks, which also responded nicely to the sauce.
The chicken itself was tender and delicious.
The buckwheat noodles (soba) in my entree were sauteed with cabbage, broccoli
and onions in a very flavorful and slightly hot sauce. The tofu was a great
sidekick to the noodles, but if you're looking for a strictly vegetarian dish,
ask them to leave off the garnish of dry bonito.
Bill and I both opted for miso soup over a lettuce salad, and it was a lovely
version of this warming broth. Made with a light-colored miso (a fermented
barley, rice or soybean paste), it seemed more the Japanese equivalent of
chicken broth in contrast to the darker, beefier misos we've encountered in the
Sweet desserts are not common in Japan -- meals often end there with pickles
instead -- but in deference to American appetites, many Japanese restaurants
offer ginger and/or green tea ice cream. On the evening of our visit, only the
green tea was available, so we split a serving ($2.25). It was very creamy,
with a taste familiar to anyone hooked on the iced Arizona versions, but just
The decor at Ran Zan (a mountain in Kyoto as well as an alternate name for the
arashi yama described above) is as simple and tasteful as its food: Ivory
walls, light wood tables and white globe lights are accented by nautical rope
which connects the beams above the sushi bar and forms a swishing curtain for
the kitchen. A few green plants, rice-paper screens across the street windows
and prints of familiar wood blocks or ink brush paintings complete the scene.
Ran Zan holds approximately 35 people in its tiny space, and there are no
reservations. So, if you go on a weekend, go early, or the line may snake up
the sidewalk. But such queues are like a herd of trucks in the parking lot of a
roadside diner -- a sign that what's inside must be worth the wait. And at Ran
Zan, that's true indeed.