Newest Marin ramen collaboration disappoints

Tam Tam Ramen opened its latest location in Mill Valley this past month, serving up an Americanized version of Japanese cuisine in the most recent iteration of the collaboration between Whole Foods and Genji, a company that operates sushi bars in some Whole Foods stores.

This is the first stand-alone version of the restaurant (there is another Tam Tam Ramen inside the Whole Foods in Santa Clara), though its Whole Foods ties are apparent from the minute one enters. Alongside a well-balanced menu sit Whole Foods products, drinks and sushi, distracting from the other food Tam Tam serves.

The interior of Tam Tam is clean, spacious and modern, a clear contrast to the homey food it serves, but the posters inside are reminiscent of those at Whole Foodsinspiring sayings, bright graphics and excellent use of white space. However, furnishings inside the restaurant aren’t particularly comfortable due to the abundance of straight lines and sleek finishes, which is unfortunate since ramen is the perfect comfort food with which to relax into a cushy booth.

Photo by Rebecca Smalbach

Photo by Rebecca Smalbach

Where Tam Tam diverges, however, from both Whole Foods and from traditional ramen, is in its menu. The broths of its ramen are much thicker and richer than any I’ve ever tasted before, and they can also be much spicier. The Spicy Miso Tonkotsu ($11.99) lived up to its name, and though unusual and not at all the type of broth I’d expect to find in my ramen, it was surprisingly good and gave the noodles a kick. Both the Tam Tam Ramen ($11.99) and the Original Tonkotsu ($11.99) had similarly flavorful broths; however, their use of seaweed was quite disappointing. Even if it is a ramen place associated with Whole Foods, the seaweed in its ramen shouldn’t look like it was taken directly from a snack pack. Though all the ramen options might look traditional, only the Original Tonkotsu is what one might expect to find at a ramen placethe rest of the ramen dishes are not bad, but are quite untraditional, especially in terms of broth.

The one true disappointment on the ramen menu, however, was the Yuzu Chicken ($11.99). It was, to put it simply, a boring dish. There wasn’t any standout flavor, and although there was no specifically terrible aspect of the ramen, it was lackluster overalldefinitely nothing to write home about. The broth, however, stood out from that of the other ramen dishes, as it was much thinner and more similar to American-style chicken broth, in line with the general blandness of the dish.

A higher point was the Pan-Fried Gyoza ($5.00), a dish that is similar to potstickers, off the small bites section of the menu. They were fried to perfection, and the vegetable filling (there is a choice of chicken) balanced perfectly with the outer shell.

Unfortunately, the Bao Sliders were not nearly as good. The Chashu Pork Sliders had a tasteless, soggy steamed bun and unevenly distributed sauce. The pork itself was overly fatty, and the buns were lukewarm.

The restaurant also has specialty drinks, such as the excellently-refreshing hibiscus iced tea, as well as a soda machine stocked with local organic soda options.

Service was extremely quick, and all food was at the table within just a few minutes, making it an ideal place for students to go grab food during lunch and make it back to fifth period on time. Workers were attentive and offered free samples, making the service one of the best aspects of Tam Tam Ramen.

But Tam Tam’s prices put it on the high end of fast food, leaving it in the awkward position of charging high rates for food that isn’t worth the sticker price, especially at such a casual place.

Ultimately, if you’re nearby, Tam Tam might be worth a quick stop, but there are other, much better ramen places to try in Marinones that aren’t an extension of Whole Foods. Authentic food isn’t Tam Tam’s specialty, but what it does do well is reliable, not particularly innovative noodles. They’ll be uniform, predictable and taste perfectly fine. They won’t be great, but if you’re really craving ramen, Tam Tam isn’t a terrible option.

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