AKITA RAMEN

209 N. Main St., Andover. Specialty: Authentic Japanese Ramen, rice bowls, appetizers and desserts $$ out of $$$$ Info: (978) 409-1077, akita-ramen.com, also on Facebook and Instagram

The entrance of Akita Ramen brings you through a portal to a colorful city in Japan. As you walk in, you’ll be greeted with tasteful mural artwork and Japanese posters plastered on the walls, creating the illusion that the intimate restaurant extends far beyond the minimal seating you see.

Although the restaurant will likely be filled, the host will spot you from the kitchen and offer a warm invitation to settle in.

It’s winter and the holidays are behind us. It’s dark and the nights are long. It’s during this time when the sun is hibernating that we need to find warmth in other ways.

What better way to feed our soul than to feed our body with warm broth and satisfying flavors of the Far East?

The menu at Akita Ramen in Andover has a perfect assortment of options. Order a few appetizers if you want to sample a variety of different flavors or dive into a satisfying bowl of Ramen.

I love Seaweed Salad. The texture, the hint of sesame, the vibrancy. It’s a simple but satisfying start or end to a rich meal. I also tried the Octopus Takoyaki Balls and Agedashi Tofu in Tsuyu broth, both topped with a delicate dusting of Bonito flakes. These can stand on their own for a dinner or share among the table if you plan to order Ramen.

My favorite of the Akita appetizers is the Pork Bun. The steamed bun with pork Chashu, the tender, braised pork belly also seen in some of the Ramen dishes, pairs beautifully with the Seaweed Salad for a complementary duo of appetizers.

Turn up the heat with the Spicy Tonkotsu Shio Ramen. The salt-based, pork bone broth is made in house and finished with a spicy chili oil, enhancing the already delicious flavors in this protein-charged bowl of pork Chashu and Ajitama, a beautifully prepared marinated, soft-boiled “Ramen” egg, along with beautiful vegetables to add crunch.

Don’t be fooled by the absence of Chashu in the Veggie Shio Ramen. The veggie-based soup has plenty of substance with tofu, noodles, shiitake mushrooms and brussels sprouts, a hearty, heart-healthy option.

The rich Black Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen has a creamy finish. Try this dish if you want a mellow entry into Ramen. The Kikurage, or wood ear mushrooms, offer an earthy accompaniment to the pork Chashu and Ajitama egg.

Finish your meal with a refreshing order of Mochi. The chewy dough, lavender in tone, holds a sweet red bean ice cream, a complement to the hot and savory dishes you will indulge in.

Although I previously felt a level of disdain for needing to scan a QR code to retrieve a menu, my experiences at Akita Ramen made me feel more appreciative of this process. Because you also place your order with this method, I noticed it speeds up the process and limits the need for more staff than is necessary to move around the small restaurant. The servers are still very attentive, checking in without being obtrusive. The food is delivered naturally, with appetizers brought first followed by the main dish.

Akita truly is a special place. The hospitable staff at this intimate Ramen restaurant serves delicious, well-executed dishes in a warm atmosphere. It’s a place to meet a friend or bring a book for a date with yourself to brighten up the darkness during the winter gloom.

Hailey Moschella loves exploring communities through their cuisine, discovering the story behind every dish. Her column appears in MethuenLife, SalemLife and HaverhillLife magazines. Her favorite culinary delight is taco night with her kids, Henry & Neko.