Tuesday, May 23, 2017

あっ晴れ Appare: guts and glory

Another trip to Nagoya late last year meant another couple ramen notches on the ever-tightening belt. This occasion was a real doozy - a trip to Kinki prefecture's take on the artery-clogging bowl known as Jiro-style (not to be confused with JJ-style), Appare.

The chain had a summer promotion where if you ordered at every one of their nine shops in July, you'd receive a coupon book of 50 free bowls of ramen. Sounds like a deal, but some of the shops are located in out-of-the-way locations in Aichi, Gifu, and Mie, meaning you need a car and an iron gut to work through those shops.

Ramen (680yen)

The ramen is worthy of the Jiro-kei mantle, with the typical mountain of bean sprouts and cabbage on top, the rich and salty pork broth on bottom, and the thick noodles (shipped from Asakusa's regular Jiro-kei supplier Kaikarou) comprising the fat middle. Senrigan is still the best version of this bowl, in my book, but Appare is good enough.

The mazesoba here is a nice alternative to the overly salty bone broth; you can add cheese, raw egg, chopped onions, extra back fat, extra oil, extra garlic, and mix it all up, Junk Garage style.

Mazesoba with extra egg (880yen)

A big place, as per the standard with shops in and around Nagoya.

Aichi-ken, Obu-shi, Yokonecho-maeda 50-1
Closest stn: Obu (30-minute walk or 10-minute taxi ride)

Open from 11am-11pm (closed from 4-530pm on weekdays)


Friday, April 28, 2017

つけ麺 丸和 Maruwa: the little things

I'm running out of adjectives (and headlines) to describe well-prepared bowls of thick, tonkotsu-gyokai tsukemen. This one is delectable.

Maruwa tsukemen (830yen)

Maruwa's thick pork porridge is distinguished by the piping hot stone bowl its served in, keeping the soup hot til the very end, a problem with most tsukemen broths that become lukewarm by the last few slurps. The soup comes out bubbling and frothy, even if its a little too sweet.

The noodles are topped with bits of dried nori, which is another nice touch that you're more likely to find on a plate of soba noodles.

When every shop is serving such solid versions of the same bowl, it's the little things that can set you apart. Oh, and being located steps away from the train station - a rarity for good Nagoya shops - is another plus.

Aichi-ken, Nagoya-shi, Nakagawa-ku, Haruta 1-150-1
Closest stn: Haruta

Open from 11am-2pm and 6-9pm (closed Tuesdays)


Thursday, April 20, 2017

柴崎亭 Shibasakitei: limitless

Hearts wanted to eat a pure, old school shoyu ramen, but both of us have really wanted to come to this all-natural, preservative-free ramen shop for a long time. We expected not much of a wait since it's outside of central Tokyo, but when we arrived 10 minutes before the shop opened there was already a line of over a dozen customers. Expect to wait about an hour, but this is a pleasant area with nice obachan grandmothers walking around.

The menu here is very reasonable - the main ramen costs only 500 yen, and the deluxe (tokusei) or wonton versions are only around 850 yen. I ordered the wonton chuka soba...

Wonton chuka soba (850yen)

...and Hearts ordered the gentei limited bowl. When Hearts asked what the limited was, the master curtly replied, "The limited is the limited" (限定は限定です). This confused us, but apparently detailed info for the limited bowls are tweeted via their Twitter account ever week. So the limited is more of a menu item for regulars.

The regular shoyu is beyond description. The bowl is beautiful and, while dark, belies a very tender flavor. The wontons are marvelous, condensed umami; really my style. I personally think Shibasakitei might have even better wonton ramen than Tantantei or Yakumo (imho of course - apologies to fans of those shops!).

Hearts limited bowl was a bonjiri, or chicken butt, ramen, paired with a side bowl of chopped chicken butt over rice. Even though this was a shoyu ramen, the taste was totally different than the shoyu, with a deeper, roasted chicken flavor.

Gentei/limited (1000yen)
The spicy tare was GREAT

The master makes multiple limited bowls EVERY WEEK, which is definitely a first for us and shows how experimental and passionate he is with his ramen. He confused us with his off-putting attitude at first, but he is actually very polite and, importantly, extremely careful and particular with his work considering his large stock of menu options.

We'll definitely be back soon.

Chofu, Nishi-tsutsujigaoka 3-25-52
Closest stn: Tsutsujigaoka

Open from 11am-2pm and 6-1130pm (closes at 930pm on weekends and holidays)


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

維新 Ishin: persistence

We tried to come out here several times, but were always turned away by some random occurrence. One time, their floor was apparently leaking to the basement shop below and they had to close for a few days for repairs.

Don't let obstacles deter you. Ishin is a fantastic addition to the growing list of refined shoyu bowls of ramen in Tokyo. Get the special (特) shoyu ramen, which comes with a half-boiled egg, extra pork and chicken chashu, and wontons. Always. Get. The. Wontons.

Tokushoyu ramen (980yen)

Everything in this bowl is excellent, and the slightly thinner-than-usual noodles are elegance embodied in ramen form.

The lunch special is a grilled chicken bowl for a breezy 150 yen. That's a ton of high-quality food for roughly a ten spot. Sometimes I hesitate to put any of this stuff online, for fear that my favorite shops will be flooded by rude tourists, but we trust our fellow Ramen Lovers to be courteous and well-behaved slurpers.

Expect a line at all times of the day, especially now that foreigners have discovered it with its inclusion in the latest Michelin Bib Gourmand list.

Tokyo, Shinagawa-ku, Kamiosaki 3-4-1
Closest stn: Meguro

Open from 1130am-3pm and 6-10pm (closed on Sundays)


Friday, March 10, 2017

中華そば こてつ Kotetsu: the locals

Full disclosure: Hearts and I nearly got in a fight over my writing about our new favorite shop in Shimokitazawa. We've been here way too many times, and he tried to convince me to keep it under wraps as our little sanctuary, but then freaking Ramen Adventures wrote about it, so I figured it was time to share it with the world.

Tokusei chuka soba (850yen)

I was craving this kind of ramen in Shimokitazawa. The owner is young and very nice. Here, you can enjoy old school shoyu ramen for a very reasonable price. The shop trends toward the more modern interpretation of an ultra clean shoyu broth using a mix of niboshi, pork, and vegetables, but with none of the funky sardine smell. Every time I sip this soup, I'm filled with tender emotion as it penetrates my body. The shio ramen, by the way, is also excellent.

Tokusei shio ramen (850yen)

The noodles are silky and have a good balance of chewiness.

And the chashu! How does he create such good chashu? I should ask him directly. The style of chashu is similar to my beloved (and shuttered) Metoki, prepared slightly raw and lean like roast beef. The juices will flow into your mouth with every bite as you feel the umami. Also, the wontons were made with great shops like Yakumo in mind, so they are also tasty.

I still can't believe the regular ramen here is only 650 yen. On top of that, the special tokusei (pictured) has wontons, egg, and extra chashu for just a couple hundred yen more. Usually these bowls are 1000 yen+ these days, so it's a small miracle that Kotetsu can provide such high quality without passing much of it on to the customer.

I've tried my hardest, but I don't think I can express in words how much I love Kotetsu. This is what I'm looking for when I go hunting for ramen, and I pray for their continued success.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-39-13
Closest stn: Shimokitazawa

Open from 1130am-3pm and 5-1030pm (closed Tuesdays)