With the popularity of ramen at a height, it was only a matter of time before we'd see a chain noodle its way into town. It happened with Vietnamese, it's happening with poke, so why not ramen?
Jinya Ramen Bar is the company with a new franchise in Orlando, its first in Florida (oddly, the website lists the names of the cities for locations in other states but the Florida listing is Thornton Park). It took over and remodeled that space in Thornton Park Central that had briefly been Verde Cantina and, before that, a Tijuana Flats.
As with many chain operations, Jinya's corporate connections bring advantages and disadvantages. It brought money to turn the space into a moody urban noodle bar with an open kitchen inside the front door, a central bar with seating on three sides, and a sunken dining room at the back.
Nothing I sampled at Jinya on my two visits was less than acceptable. Some things were delightfully better than I expected, some less so.
It wasn't until my second visit that the ramen itself reached a higher level. That was the time I had the Jinya Tonkatsu Black, pictured at top, a large bowl with a pork broth base that had a wonderfully luscious mouthfeel. Despite having major billing in the dish's name, the tonkatsu -- chasu here, or pork belly -- was only part of a larger ensemble of ingredients that included mushrooms, garlic chips, fried onions, a whole soft-boiled egg seasoned in soy, and of course the thin noodles that make ramen so much fun to eat.
I didn't think the two large squares of nori that were slid down the side of the bowl added anything but decoration. But I was impressed that the cooking of the egg had been calculated to include the time to come from the kitchen to my table, sitting in hot broth, but yet still with a soft and oozy yolk when I chopsticked into it.
The ramens I had on my first visit, the Sukiyaki Q and the Jinya Chicken Ramen didn't have the same character. They seemed flat. Both had plenty of ingredients and were quite filling and sufficiently edible. But still.
From the list of small plates, my companion and I shared an order of Pork Chashu & Kimchee Tacos. Served in crispy shells fashioned out of fried wonton wrappers, the braised pork belly was amply applied -- more so than the kimchi -- and topped with ls handfuls of fresh cilantro. Not the most thoughtful garnish placement you'll ever see, but I liked the soft tartness of the leaves.
The appetizer of Tempura Brussels Sprouts was winning in its simplicity. They wore light and delicate jackets of tempura batter and were deftly fried and spritz with a thankfully small amount of truffle-flavored something. I could have noshed those all night.
There's another thing that chain restaurants can provide: training. The young staff at Jinya have obviously been given training tips, but it could have been taken further. The young woman who served me on my second visit did many things right, and I appreciated the extra attention. But I wanted to tell her that there wasn't anything about the food I ordered, the beverage I selected or the fact that it wasn't my first visit that was awesome, as she declared each to be.
And the practice of having the servers and everyone in the kitchen yell some unintelligible Japanese phrase whenever someone is shown to a table is silly, and sounds about as sincere as "Welcome to Moe's."
But then, it is a chain.
Jinya Ramen Bar is at 8 N. Summerlin Ave., Orlando. It's open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-704-1825.