Recently, I popped onto Chowhound after an inadvertent several year long break and noticed a new posting praising a local cafe serving good ramen in the area.
My tummy rumbled, "Can this be? Decent ramen that won't torture us with a 3 hour drive to Columbus? We must investigate this!"
A couple of months passed quickly, when Bug surprised me last weekend. Nestled along a lively, jumbled strip on Larchmere Boulevard, Flying Cranes was easy to miss amidst galleries, restaurants, clothing boutiques, residences, pedestrians playing Frogger, and flinging car doors.
We were fortunate to find a parking spot in front of the restaurant, plunked a few quarters into the parking meter, and rushed into the cafe before becoming drenched from the rain.
Once inside, it was as if we just stepped into someone's breakfast nook. Warm natural light filters through the large storefront windows, bright yellow and white striped wallpaper, and a myriad of planters filled with flowing foliage and blossoms.
Browsing the menu, I imagined a Japanese housewife enjoying iced coffee ($2.50-4.00) or tea ($2.00), a club sandwich ($7.50), quiche ($8.50), or zaru soba* ($8.50); a nose-in-book college student slurping a bowl of tanuki udon** ($8.00), curry rice ($9.00), or gyudon*** ($10.00); and an eclectic 50-something couple engaged in high tea ($18.50) or sharing a tempura or sukiyaki**** dinner ($15.00).
The decision was difficult, but I ordered curry udon ($8.50) and mango tea ($2.50) for myself and ramen ($9.00) for Bug.
Bug enjoyed the ramen; however, he would have preferred a firmer bite to the noodle. The base was not a straightforward shoyu broth having a beefy essence that he neither liked nor disliked. I thought the broth leaned more toward saimin broth, a Hawaiian noodle broth with a slightly fishier tasting base.
I was pleased with my udon. The noodles were springy and slithery, and the curry broth was smooth and intense, not gloppy. Also included were pillows of beef and chicken that were simmered in the curry. For a fleeting moment, I considered trying their curry rice on a subsequent visit, but Bug makes an amazing pot of curry using House Kokumaro curry bricks.
While I would also like to order the curry udon again on a return trip, a new dish would be sensible; perhaps the hiyashi chuka***** ($9.00) or gyudon ($10.00).
We had 1 hour and 20 minutes left on the parking meter and peered across the street at Loganberry Books' small storefront no more than 20 feet wide. Little did we know we would be walking into a Tardis. We were lost in the deceptively cavernous store that had thousands of books neatly shelved from 10' high ceiling to floor for nearly an hour. There were at least 15 books on netsuke, toggles used on the cords of hanging personal medicine containers or similar when wearing a kimono. What a find!
Flying Cranes Cafe
13006 Larchmere Blvd
Shaker Heights, OH 44120
Tel: (216) 795-1033
* zaru soba -- cold buckwheat noodles typically served with a nori (seaweed/laver) topping, and a small bowl of chilled soy sauce base to dip the noodles and slurp
** tanuki udon -- fried tempura batter bits sprinkled over udon in broth
*** gyudon (gyu comes from gyuniku which means beef and don is the truncated form of donburi, which is bowl) -- beef simmered in a soy sauce base with onions and served over a bowl of rice
**** sukiyaki -- hotpot dish cooked at the table with wafered beef, shiitake, and various chopped vegetables cooked in a soy sauce-sake-brown sugar broth served with a raw egg and rice
***** hiyashi chuka -- cold Chinese-style (squiggly yellow) noodles served with various toppings, e.g., slivered egg crepe, cucumber sticks, with a sesame or soy sauce dressing