I’ll be the first to admit that I’m always intrigued by restaurants that play hard to get. I have a strange fascination with any place that has the gumption to open during odd inconvenient hours. Likewise, I have a fondness for any chef who forbids substitutions. Surly behavior doesn’t faze me one bit (I work in a kitchen, after all), and I admire the Soup Nazi routine if it’s warranted. To me, these are all positive and confident signs, and they communicate almost everything I need to know about a restaurant – namely, that the food is good and that the chef has a clear vision. Customers be damned, if they don’t get it.
Kansui caught my attention about a month ago when I was researching South Bay ramen, and I noticed the restaurant offered abbreviated hours (Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30am to 1:30pm). Ten business hours per week is unusual by almost any standard, so naturally my curiosity was piqued. I envisioned a ramen house with tonkotsu broth so transcendent that it could sell out of soup within this two-hour window each day. A place where, if you were to show up any time after one o’clock, you probably wouldn’t be served, since the line would already be too long by then. This is the ramen house that I dream about.
I would eventually discover that Kansui offers lunch-only hours for a different reason: The restaurant is the daytime concept of Hay Market Willow Glen, an otherwise American-style restaurant during dinner hours. This arrangement was not exactly what I expected, but my optimism remained intact. I entertained the possibility that Kansui was perhaps a pop-up of sorts, with some entrepreneurial chef, maybe even a recent transplant from Kyushu, making use of Hay Market’s fallow lunchtime space. It was a plausible scenario, but again, I was over-thinking things. Kansui and Hay Market are operated by the same exact folks, end of story.
Admittedly, I was a little disappointed in lack of Kansui’s backstory, although the enigma remains to some extent. It’s still a place where you can only get ramen 10 hours out of the week. More importantly, it’s an admirable bowl of tonkotsu. The broth has the proper richness and depth, the noodles are made in-house, and the barely-boiled egg (usually a telltale sign of quality) is executed perfectly. I’m not sure that Kansui is “destination” ramen for me (since I do live in Napa), but this lunch-only spot seems like a great addition to a neighborhood like Willow Glen.