Robata Grill and Ramen Noodle popped up on Corvallis’ river strip this past spring with much anticipation. Local mutterings place it within the Sada lineage, but other sources point to some guy named Steve. Its elevator pitch was ramen variations and grilled meat on sticks. It had our attention. What actually conspired across three visits proved otherwise.

Visit 1: Professor X and I were out one Thursday during the quarter, prowling for a place to eat dinner. As of parking the car, we still hadn’t decided. We noticed the lights on at Robata as we crossed Monroe, and it was settled.

The space formerly housed grumpy fish man; the only location for properly fresh fish in our fair town. The peripheral tables were half full, and a few locals hung out at the bar. I noticed a few “fuck my life” expressions as we were led to our booth. At the time, I figured it was because those parties had kids. After all, the servers seemed to be attentive and busy. We were seated next in line to a family of four, who I noticed spoke French.

Our meal unfolded uneventfully, if not better than expected since they had only been open for a week. We ordered. Food came. Waiter was attentive and a bit green, but he held it down better than his cohort. Professor X had lamb donburi, and I got Nagasaki ramen (pork broth with seafood). We split some gyoza.

Impressions from that night:

  1. The gyoza were clearly frozen together when they went in the oil, as they came out to us like a little fried raft. They were okay, but the mix lacked seasoning and the gyoza dipping sauce needed extra soy to fortify it.
  2. Professor X wolfed down his bowl of lamb donburi, and proclaimed it “pretty good.” A bowl of rice and meat rarely fails to please him.
  3. I was a little disappointed by my bowl of ramen because it had a metric shit ton of sauteed cabbage in it. Veg usually acts as low cost-point filler, but there was plenty of seafood. Why all the cabbage then? Needless to say, the broth to solid ratio was skewed in favor of the latter.
  4. And speaking of broth, it needed encouragement. It had the slick mouthfeel you’d expect from the cloudy pork variety, but lacked depth. It was just sort of salty and fatty. This is not to say it was terrible, just needs some finessing.
  5. The French couple with two young children next to us were already there when we arrived, and were just getting their appetizers when we left. I don’t know the full story, but they seemed highly pissed off.
  6. Professor X couldn’t get a spoon to save his life. He actually wandered in to the nearby server station and grabbed one without detection.

Visit 2: A and I headed out for a lunch adventure. She too was excited to hear about Robata’s arrival, but doesn’t get into “town” much outside of work. We ended up leaving because the waiter openly admitted that they wouldn’t be able to get us out in an hour. Some would take umbrage at his transparency, but we found it refreshing and happily toddled down to Cloud and Kelly’s where they also couldn’t get us out in an hour, but indicated nothing of it. Ah Corvallis.

Visit 3:  A and I headed out for a happy hour adventure with our menfolk. We envisioned sake during the initial planning stage, and A hoped for soba. Unfortunately, post-work fatigue put the kaibash on sake and they don’t do soba. A scored a seat – the exact one Professor X and I had the first time – and service seemed to be going well. Despite this, I again noted a few “fuck my life” faces among the customers. I also noticed it was primarily occupied by the 60+ crowd. This would be a red flag in other locales, but not here. They are the largest demographic in Florida’s PNW annex after all.

This time around we ordered beef donburi and variations of the make-your-own bowl; shoyu for me, miso for A, and tonkatsu for At. Professor X ordered a chicken skewer too.

Impressions:

  1. My ramen was tepid and reeked of baking soda. The broth was nearly tasteless, and didn’t have enough salt. How can you not have enough salt in shoyu broth? Shoyu practically is salt.
  2. At reported that his was more like noodles with a weird sauce than a bowl of soup. Other comments included not enough meat, store bought noodles, and his was also tepid.
  3. A straight up couldn’t finish hers and concurred with all of our observations.
  4. Professor X finished his, but mentioned that he needed to add a great deal of chili oil and shichimi to get the flavor profile popping. He agreed with At that their protein portions were stingy. However, the rice was “not bad.”
  5. Our waiter had a habit of lingering silently around the table like a puppy. Oddly enough, Rajiv still couldn’t get a spoon and wandered, yet again, into the server station without the employee’s noticing.
  6. Cabbage was blessedly absent from all the bowls, but we were given topping options. I could see it trailing off chopsticks at other tables. (Ed note: I like cabbage.)

Thankfully, A and At are not the kind of folk who blame the inviting party for bad restaurant experiences and the relationship is intact. As we wandered over to gelato, At mentioned that they could easily make better at home, and, hey! maybe we should for one of the themed cooking nights! Everyone agreed while hungrily inhaling the scent of pizza on the air.

So what to do with all this data? After a great deal of sighing and expectation managing, we’re sad to say that we won’t be back. I’ve grown incredibly fucking patient with restaurants since moving to Corvallis. We’ll overlook disproportionately long wait times, lost credit cards, forgotten drinks and appetizers, and other instances of Keystone cop bumbling if the food is even reasonably good. Unfortunately, Robata Grill and Ramen Noodle just isn’t worth it.

Side note to Sada: Sir, if Robata is indeed in your restaurant lineage, please get upstairs post-haste and box that kid’s ears. It’s an embarrassment to the quality of your izakaya joint, and all the work you’ve poured in to make it a well-oiled machine.

 

 

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