Wednesday, September 25, 2013

すみす sumisu: mr. and mrs. smith

Kicking off the three-day holiday was this ramen shop called Sumisu (I thought it was "Smith" at first...).

It's located in a business district that is probably all busy-ness on weekdays, but is pretty quiet on weekends and holidays.

Sumisu specializes in a mizutaki ramen.

Mizutaki ramen (700yen)

Mizutaki is a form of hot pot that originates in Kyushu and consists of cooked chickens or vegetables in a pot with sea weed soup stock.

Hearts tried shoyu.

Shoyu ramen (700yen)

Both bowls were quite similar. The soup is very clear, creamy, rich, with a strong taste of chicken.

From the first sip, I was hooked on this ramen. This is a really relaxing bowl full of quality ingredients.

Both our bowls had the same excellent toppings. Two different parts of chicken chashu and a chicken meatball. The former was very juicy, while the latter had a crunch stemming from the inclusion of bits of chicken cartilage.

Eating great ramen is the best start to the long weekend.

Tokyo, Minato-ku, Minami Aoyama 2-2-15
Closest stn: Aoyama Icchome

Open from Monday-Saturday 11am-10pm


Friday, September 20, 2013

ごたる Gotaru: the man from down under

Numabukuro has the market cornered on tonkotsu ramen. They already are home to what is, in my mind, the greatest shop in Tokyo, Muteppo

But for a more traditional Hakata-style bowl, Gotaru is a great option. This is a vendor-style yatai transposed into a storefront. Just a counter and a couple, serving patrons quickly and efficiently.

Hakata, Kyushu is famous for bowls of hot, milky white pork bone soup. Also, cheap. At 600 yen a bowl, Gotaru gets right at what Hakaya-style is supposed to be. Get the standard...

Ajitama ramen (700yen) it with a mountain of kikurage wood-ear mushrooms...

Kikurage ramen (700yen)

...or get it spicy hot. It's all delicious and topped with some of the most savory thin-sliced pork belly I've ever had.

Akakara ramen (650yen)

Any good Hakata-style shop will offer plenty of toppings to trick out your soup. Grated garlic, pickled ginger, and spicy greens are your usual suspects. While there are no rules to eating ramen, don't be a rube and start throwing in everything before you take your first bite. Savor the broth, - the product of many hours of intense labor - for a few sips before you mutate it to your own desire.

Gotaru is one of the few places you can get a half order of extra noodles. Another idea for customized dining that I wish more shops would adopt.

Grab a beer, a bowl, and chill.

Tokyo, Nakano-ku, Arai 3-38-10
Closest stn: Numabukuro

Open from 1130am-11pm (closed from 230-5pm Tuesday-Friday)


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

どらいち Dora-ichi: tan-tampopo

I'm an English-studying nerd at Temple University in Azabu Juban. I've been meaning to try out the tantanmen shop nearby. Every time I passed by, the plastic food samples out front made me salivate. How great is Japan's plastic food sample industry? Are they the greatest unsung artists in the world?

I had to come here twice in order to try their tantanmen both with and without soup.

Shirunashi tantanmen (1000yen)

The soupless tantanmen is a beautiful bowl. Mix up all the ingredients and it's ready to eat. You can really taste the sweetness of the ground meat and the noodles have a nice, elastic texture to them. They use a bit too much green onion, which irritated my nose.

Shiruari tantanmen (1000yen)

The regular tantanmen was also very good. The soup is creamy, but too overly so. Personally, I prefer this bowl.

Azabu Juban has luxurious image, but this shop is very welcoming to all stripes of customer.

Tokyo, Minamiazabu, 2-12-5
Closest stn: Azabu Juban

Open from 1130am-1030pm (closed Mondays)


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

つけめんDINING IBUKI: for relaxing times

Sometimes one just needs to unwind...

Tokusei tsukemen + curry (1040yen)

...with a giant bowl of curry tsukemen.

Tsukemen Dining IBUKI (not to be confused with the venerable Chukasoba Ibuki) is just a stone's throw from Sora no Iro, one of the greatest ramen shops in Tokyo. The shop specializes in flat, hirauchi style noodles, and these were chewier, stickier, and more filling than your standard fettuccine. They paired well with the thick, curry-infused broth, though I could have used more curry and less of the usual pork bone and bonito gyokai tonkotsu mix.

More than just ramen, though, IBUKI is a chill spot to lounge. It's close to many performance halls and traditional dance theatres in the area, and their menu is huge and eclectic, with lots of vegetable offerings. It's a little expensive, but you can enjoy the quaint cafe atmosphere of the place long after you've slurped your bowl.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Kojimachi 1-5-4 Lions Plaza ST Hanzomon 1-4
Closest stn: Hanzomon

Open from 1130am-3pm and 5-11pm (closes at 230pm and 8pm on weekends)


Friday, September 6, 2013

Fine-Tuned Ramen with Music Bee Hive: ramen jive

I just came back from summer vacation in Hawaii and needed a smooth ramen after my stomach had been saturated with greasy American food. Bee Hive is in an unpopulated residential area of normally busy Roppongi, and is one of those limited shops open only for lunch on the weekdays.

When I tried to enter the shop, I initially thought it was the wrong place because the inside looked like a live house, so I pushed Hearts into the shop (sorry Hearts). It turns out Bee Hive is a bar that serves liquor to happening salarymen at night, but serves up steaming bowls of ramen and good music to brooding salarymen during the day. A unique concept to concentrate on your ramen in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.

The menu and shop apparently underwent a renovation. I ordered a gentle shoyu with niboshi (dried sardines).

Niboshi shoyu ramen (750yen)

The first sip tasted strongly of dried sardines, but with no harsh or bitter aftertaste. The noodles were also surprisingly flavorful, going well with the soup.

Hearts ordered the heartier tonkotsu shoyu, a tonkotsu broth blended with...shoyu.

Tonkotsu shoyu ramen (750yen)

This was surprisingly rich, almost like a creamy porcini mushroom soup.

It's just a tad salty, and would probably go well with alcohol, though I wouldn't know since I don't drink.

Any music lovers and ramen lovers would feel at home at a place like this, like bees to honey.

I'd like to check out a live performance here some time. There were autographs on the wall, and lots of flyers and posters of mostly Japanese bands.

Tokyo, Minato-ku, Roppongi 7-11-10
Closest stn: Roppongi

Open from 1130am-230pm Monday-Friday

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

ソルト Salt: chicken soup for the soul

If 2011 was the ramen year of tonkotsu gyokai, and 2012 was the year of jiro-kei, then 2013 - at least according to the magazines - might be the year of chicken-flavored soup and tori paitan, a brand of ramen whose soup is made entirely out of chicken stock.

Salt (or is it Solt?) is an all-chicken shop in my favorite part of Tokyo. Converted from what looks to be an old sushi restaurant, the vibe is quaint, 80s-era bamboo paper and wood paneling, a stark contrast to the sleek lines of modern joints, or the filthy digs of more masculine haunts.

The place is run by a very friendly and hard-working couple, with the duties separated in the same fashion as most ramen shops run by couples - pretty girl in the front seating customers and handling the register, rugged dude in the back making all the food by himself. Occasionally, the lady might place some chopped onions or chicken in the bowl if she has a spare hand, but the kitchen belongs to the man.

Salt has a large sampling of various chicken ramen, but half the bowls are priced inexpensively, permitting you to sample more than one bowl should you have an ambitious friend (I wish more ramen shops did this). We ordered the tori soba, a standard chicken ramen...

Tori soba (600yen)

...maru soba, a ramen with a light dipping broth...

Maru soba (600yen)

...and their house-special tori-paitan.

Tori paitan (730yen)

The tori soba and maru soba are clear, delicate broths of rich chicken stock, like ramen your mother would make you if you had the flu. The maru-soba is notable for its soup wari (water you to the rich soup upon finishing your noodles), enriched with yuzu tea and especially refreshing on a hot summer day.

The tori-paitan, on the other hand, is heavy, creamy chicken sauce covering every inch of the flat noodles. Salt has different noodles for every bowl, and they've opted to go with a sort of chicken-flavored alfredo fettucine here.

It works. Very, very well. Everyone else seemed to be grubbing out on the tori-paitan tsukemen, and for such a new shop there seemed to be a lot of regulars already. This is another good neighborhood shop for an area that could always use more of them.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 5-36-13 1F
Closest stn: Shimokitazawa

Open from 1130am-130am


Monday, September 2, 2013

さっぽろ純連 Sapporo Junren: hot water

It's getting cooler (just a little) and the smell of fall is coming. Hearts and I were looking for a ramen which warm us.

Here comes Sapporo Junren, straight from Hokkaido, famous for its miso (soy bean paste) ramen, right in the heart of Takadanobaba, one of the ramen meccas of Tokyo.

I chose the miso ramen...

Miso ramen with flavored egg (950yen)

...Hearts got the miso ramen with corn and butter...

Miso ramen w/ corn and butter (950yen)

...and a special friend from LA chose the spicy miso.

Spicy miso ramen (950yen)

It was as hot and steamy as the legends told. The vegetables were sweet and the soup was rich and heavy.

The first sip has great impact, but I felt the bowl become gradually too heavy for my stomach and I got thirsty by the end. The soup is strong, but not as creamy as I expected. Good, but a perfect bowl of miso.

Most of the time, the ramen soup becomes lukewarm by the time you get to the end of the bowl, but here, the soup stayed piping hot until the end.

I think I'll be craving this bowl come winter.

Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Takadanobaba 3-12-8 Takadanobaba Center Bldg. 1F
Closest stn: Takadanobaba

Open from 11am-1035pm