Like a haiku whose deceptive simplicity reveals grander themes, the elegant minimalism of Namba Ramen & Sushi in Naples gives rise to an exquisitely memorable dining experience. In its unpretentious setting, Namba has brought Izakaya dining to the Gulfshore. Izakayas, which some liken to taverns or pubs, have traditionally served small plates for sharing, and Naples’ Namba—named for a district in Osaka—continues that tradition with small dishes and bowls of ramen that offer big, powerful tastes.
On the night I experienced Namba for the first time, my dining companion and I split two small plates, the braised Berkshire pork belly buns ($12) and the house-made wagyu gyoza ($12) served with a double-tiered dipping sauce of black truffle paste and ponzu. Our neighbor at the next table over leaned close and whispered, “The pork buns are amazing,” which turned out to be accurate. The thick-sliced pork was rich and savory, and the steamed buns had the perfect sponginess that good pork buns aspire to. The gyoza, too, were outstanding. Savory and salty with a slight sweetness, the sirloin dumplings were made even better by the sauce duo, whose umami notes and bright acidity opened up the dumplings’ flavor.
From there, we moved on to the sushi. Two orders of nigiri—sweet shrimp ($12) and blue fin tuna belly ($16)—both fresh and delightful, then two orders of aburi. Aburi, if you happen to be new to it, as I was, is a style of sushi where the fish or meat is partially grilled on top. We had the salmon belly aburi ($9), two pieces of seared salmon with soy-seasoned black truffle oil topped with tobiko and extra fish roe, as well as the Hokkaido scallop ($12), a seared scallop topped with whipped truffle tofu butter and drizzled with Japanese pickled plum butter. Both were refined in appearance and smooth and buttery in taste.
Next we split a bowl of the Hakata classic ramen ($13) with a tonkatsu broth and slices of pork chashu, red ginger, wood ear mushrooms, nori, bamboo shoots, Japanese pickled plum and spicy bean sprouts. In recent years ramen has been elevated to an art form, and our steaming bowl of artfully combined flavors was a testament to Namba’s creative powers.
At the end of the meal, we shared a dish of green tea crème brûlée ($6). Like the rest of our Namba experience, the steamed egg custard infused with green tea was simple, elegant and delicious.
Be warned: Namba is so remarkable in both taste and presentation that it’s sure to ruin you on standard sushi and quotidian ramen for the rest of your culinary experience. But as long as this shrine to Japanese minimalism and artful flavors is serving them, you won’t mind the loss.
Namba Ramen & Sushi
8847 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, 239-592-4992, nambanaples.com.
Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m. Wheelchair-accessible. No reservations.