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Akira Ramen & Izakaya Comes to Rockville, Maryland

Samantha Lee
Contributing Food Writer

May 10, 2018
Photo credit: Samantha Lee

 

Australian native and restauranteur, Edward Wong, chose the Japanese name Akira for his recently opened ramen and izakaya restaurant on Rockville Pike. The name is synonymous with the words “bright”, “intelligent” or “clear” – a very auspicious beginning for this small, appealing spot. As a graphic designer Wong was drawn to the Japanese character tsu, a kanji word meaning tsunami, and chose it for his dramatically etched black-and-white logo. Since opening the 42-seat spot last October, he has enjoyed an enthusiastic and dedicated clientele in this cheerful, window-lit eatery. Wong also owns Gong Cha, a Taiwanese bubble tea shop, and Urban Hot Pot, a Chinese-style hot pot restaurant. All three are located within the same strip mall.

Before coming to Akira, Wong’s chef Tony Lin had run his own Japanese restaurant in New York City. Working alongside noodlemaker Jerry Li, the men learned to make traditional buckwheat skinny and curly noodles from renowned Japanese soba master Shuichi Kotani – more familiarly known as “Kotani San”. Their noodles are a combination of wheat flour, water, and alkaline salt. It’s the salt which gives the noodle color and helps to control the acidity levels in the dough. Everything in the ramen – sauce, broth, noodles and meat – is made from scratch. The pork-based broth – made from pork bones, vegetables and spices – is cooked low and slow for 8 hours.

The restaurant's decorations are simple. A feature wall has a design of pink cherry blossom trees and song birds and white paper lanterns and vintage lights hang from above. Alongside the bar, there is a navy-colored noren curtain with multiple panels of block print waves.

The menu is two double-sided pages. The main menu describes the appetizers, dessert and non-alcoholic beverages. On the reverse, it describes the ramen and ramen add-ins. A bowl of ramen is around $13.00. Another page lists the chef's specials. Unlike most Japanese restaurants in the area, they offer unique appetizers such as Okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pancake), Geso Kara (fried squid legs), and Hamachi Kamayaki. The restaurant has an open kitchen concept that allows guests to sit at the bar and watch their ramen being prepared.

My favorite appetizers are Karaage, Tofu Avocado Salad, Poke Salad, Geso Kara, Yellowtail Carpaccio, Hamachi Kamayaki, Sashimi, Kani Salad and Takoyaki.

Karaage

Deep fried chicken pieces served with lemon and two dipping sauce - Sriracha Aioli and horseradish mayonnaise. It’s crispy, tender and juicy.

Tofu Avocado Salad

Freshly chopped romaine lettuce, topped with chopped silken tofu, seaweed threads, garlic chips, and pickled radish in a sweet tangy mustard/sesame/ginger vinaigrette.

Poke Salad

Served Hawaiian style and consisted of chopped sashimi from three types of fish - tuna, salmon and yellowtail – mixed with diced cucumber, mango, and avocado with micro wasabi in a ponzu sauce.

Geso Kara

Tempura-battered and lightly fried squid legs served with lemon and sriracha aioli.

Yellowtail Capaccio

Five pieces of half-torched yellowtail topped with scallion and fish roe and served in a yuzu-scented miso-mustard sauce.

Hamachi Kamayaki

A lightly seasoned yellowtail collar, grilled and served with lemon and tart soy dipping sauce with a hint of yuzu. The meat was fatty, juicy and tender. I like how the flesh easily comes off the bone with a chopstick or fork.

Sashimi

A choice of two each - tuna, yellowtail and salmon served over shisho leaves and shredded daikon radish with pickled ginger and wasabi. Instead of wasabi, I prefer the sashimi with lemon. I love how the sashimi was super fresh and high quality.

Kani Salad

A bed of shredded daikon radish topped with a shower of shredded crabmeat, cucumber and fish roe and lightly tossed in kewpie mayo.

Takoyaki

Six deep fried spheres of octopus drizzled with a Worcestershire-based sauce, with mayonnaise, green laver seaweed, bonito flakes and scallions. The takoyaki is savory, crispy on the sides, and chewy on the inside.

Gyoza

Five dumplings made of thin wonton wrappers filled with a seasoned pork and ginger then pan fried and served in a spicy ponzu sauce.

Charsu Bun

Two steamed sweet open-faced buns stuffed with lettuce-wrapped marinated pork belly drizzled with sriracha mayo.

Akira offers seven wonderful variations of ramen:
Akira Ramen (pork broth), Akira Volcano Ramen (pork broth), Tonkotsu Miso Ramen (pork broth, Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen (pork broth), Karaage Ramen (chicken broth), Shrimp Tempura (pork broth), and Vegetable Ramen (vegetable broth).

Akira Volcano Ramen

A dish of skinny or curly noodles, stir-fried bean sprout, onion, pork belly, egg, fish cake, corn, scallions, bamboo shoots, wood ears, nori, black garlic oil, and chili paste in tonkotsu salt flavored broth. If it's not spicy enough for you, feel free to add shichi-mi tōgarashi, a spicy Japanese seasoning blend of ground red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, ground sanshō, ginger, and seaweed, to your liking.

Tonkotsu Miso Ramen

Skinny noodles cooked with egg, fish cake, scallion, corn, bamboo shoots, and wood ear mushrooms in a miso paste pork broth garnished with nori and torched pork belly.

Vegetable Ramen

Vegetable ramen boasts curly noodles cooked in a vegetable broth made from onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, shiitakes, bok choy, wood-ear mushrooms, and tofu and garnished with stir-fried bean sprouts, scallion, bamboo shoot, nori, and pickled ginger.

Green Tea Cheesecake

A lovely combination of smoothly blended cream cheese, matcha powder, and sugar on a graham cracker crust which is then baked and dusted with matcha powder. It is served with a scoop of matcha ice cream. It could be matcha overkill if consumed by one person, but it's a perfect dessert for sharing.

Though not a seasonal menu, the chef introduces new items every now and then. Look for cold noodle dishes – in-house made udon and soba noodles and sukiyaki – to come on the menu this summer. If you love a Japanese restaurant that offers variety or would love to try the best ramen spot in Montgomery County, Akira Ramen & Izakaya is certainly worth checking out.

Wong plans a second location in downtown Columbia, MD later this year. It will have an open kitchen concept where patrons can watch chefs prepare the food including the yakitori, handmade noodles and ramen and where there will be a larger waiting area as well as a bar.

Akira Ramen & Izakaya is located in the Galvan at Twinbrook apartment complex. The restaurant address is 1800 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20850. Open daily - Mon to Thurs: 11am - 3pm and 5pm - 10pm; Fri: 11am - 3pm and 5pm - 11pm; Sat: 11am - 11pm and Sun 11:30am - 9pm. The restaurant does not take reservations – seating is first come, first served. During peak hours, expect a 30 to 45-minute wait. Akira is within walking distance from the Twinbrook Metro. There are a few parking spots on the side street and in the front lot. Additional parking is in the underground retail garage in the rear, and the first two hours are free.

For more information, visit their website at Akira Ramen & Izakaya.

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