Standard late-night fare made up most of the menu at Bay State Underground when the dining establishment reopened after renovations in September — burgers, flatbreads and quesadillas. The new O-Mori Ramen Bar is a recent addition to after-hours dining, opening on Jan. 22. Its menu presents something unique yet still comforting: noodle soup.
Students pull off winter layers and head downstairs to a recently renovated space that represents a welcome refuge from the noise and fluorescent-lit classrooms of the day. Booth seating along one wall serves to muffle sound, and the dim lighting has an immediate relaxing effect. A Big Ten basketball game playing silently on the mounted TVs made this Michigan native feel right at home.
As with the other options at Bay State Underground, O-Mori does not offer table service. Customers place their orders at a single cash register and pick up their food at the counter when it’s ready.
Only a handful of students populated the booths and tables when the dining area opened at 7 p.m., but by 8 p.m. more than half the seating was occupied — with many patrons ferrying steaming bowls of ramen back to their seats.
I ordered the chashu pulled pork bowl, one of the three ramen bowls available. The menu at O-Mori is limited but thoughtful — of the remaining options, the curry chicken katsu bowl features poultry rather than pig, and the mushroom miso bowl is vegetarian. Customers can also combine any components of the three menu items to create their own ramen bowl.
After about 15 minutes, I picked up a piping hot bowl with pulled pork carefully heaped in the center and scallions sprinkled across the top. A few freshly crisped onions lent the dish a mouthwatering aroma.
Overall, the elements of the chashu pulled pork bowl combined to deliver a satisfying and tasty meal — except for the soy egg. More on that in a minute.
Each spoonful of the smoky shoyu broth offered a rich, meaty flavor. The broth contained just a touch of smokiness that never became overpowering. The only issue was that the paper bowls O-Mori uses to serve their ramen, even when the customer eats in, allowed the dish to cool down rather quickly.
O-Mori serves a generous fist-sized portion of protein in its pork and chicken ramen bowls, with the chashu pulled pork bowl containing a shredded sweet-soy-braised variety. While the meat could have been more tender, its savory flavor matched the flavor of the shoyu broth. It was perfectly restrained — neither too sweet nor too heavy on soy.
As far as the noodles themselves, O-Mori included a larger portion relative to the amount of broth than do many other ramen restaurants, including Noodle Street on Commonwealth Avenue. However, this never detracted from the dish as a whole and in fact served to make it a bit more filling.
The ramen bowls might not amount to a complete meal if you’re particularly hungry — after all, they’re still just soup — but offer good value for their $8 price tag.
Each of the three bowls on the menu costs $7.99, as do create-your-own bowls that include a broth, one protein and vegetables.
My bowl did not include the “nori square” of seaweed as advertised, but the broth, pork, scallions and crispy onions added plenty of dimension to the dish. I likely would have overlooked the omission had I not made a point to carefully consider the menu for this review.
The soy egg was the only component of the O-Mori bowls I would change, although I appreciated the extra protein and nutrients it brought. Hard-boiled, peeled, then steeped in a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and spices, soy eggs have the potential to complement these ramen noodles well.
The particular eggs at O-Mori, however, were on a salt-and-vinegar chip level. They were too tart compared to the rest of the dish.
Understandably, the O-Mori staff can serve dishes faster and with more confidence in the safety of their food with hard-boiled eggs than eggs with a runny yolk. But the soy egg might miss the mark if you prefer the latter to stir into ramen noodles.
Bay State Underground is open from 7 p.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday and 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Students may pay with cash, credit cards, convenience points or dining points. For a reasonably healthy dinner that will warm you up on a cold night, bundle up and head to O-Mori Ramen Bar for an excellent bowl of ramen noodles.