Thursday, December 25, 2014

銀笹 Ginsasa: ramen so fancy

Shimbashi is bustling with big Japanese firms like Dentsu, Softbank, and ANA. There, Ginzasa stands quietly in between the hulking skyscrapers like an old-fashioned Japanese sushi bar.

But the shop's interior is dark and black, like a sleek and modern izakaya. There are a lot of salarymen and office ladies in here during lunch. You might need to compromise by squeezing in next to someone. I personally don't like sitting this close to people at the counter; someone slurped some soup into my UGG boot. Ugh...

Unlike most shops which use niboshi or katsuo, Ginsasa makes their broth from sea bream.

Ginzasa Shio Ramen (850yen)

When the bowl arrived, wafts of sea bream softly filled my nose. The clear soup is beautiful, and is something that would be served in a nice washoku restaurant; in other words, this is a bowl that fits its location. Even the noodles are silky and their thinness matches the soup.

The tsumire, or "fish ball," is soft and a little crunchy, with a beautiful pink color. It reminds me of Kaijinn in Shinjuku, which also serves a fish-based shio ramen.

Unfortunately, the sea bream's smell is stronger than its taste. I really wanted this bowl to have more impact and bring out the flavors of the fish. Maybe the sea bream on rice would do that if you have the appetite for it.

Ginza is a world-class area of Tokyo, but I'm not sure it's the best place to eat ramen. I couldn't feel relaxed the entire time I was here. For those who want a sleek scene, Ginsasa might be your place.

Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-15-2
Closest stn: Ginza

Open from 1130am-3pm and 530-10pm (closed Sundays)


Friday, December 12, 2014

つけ麺 道 Michi: kochira kameari ramen

I was way out in Kameari, home to the longest running manga ever, Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen Mae Hashutsujo, or Kochikame, for short (the title translates, literally, to "The Local Police Station in Front of Kameari Park in the Katsushika Ward). Kameari is also home to one of the highest ranked tsukemen shops in the country, which only opens for lunch. It's probably getting too cold for tsukemen, but Michi calls for an exception.

The lines here are long, and I was seriously tempted by the bento shop next door selling bentos for a ridiculous 220 yen. I think with today's exchange rates that's less than $2!

Unlike most places that overload their tsukemen with ingredients, Michi has the option of a so-tsukemen: a simple bowl with just noodles, soup, scallions, and a little "seasoning."

So-tsukemen (550yen)

The seasoning changes all the time, and this week featured a tangy yuzu kosho - spice flavored with yuzu citrus. Put a little on each bit of noodle, dip into the broth, and slurp.

The toppings looked good, too, but getting the basic version lets you savor the excellent noodles...

...and near-perfect broth, which is very similar to Menya Kisso in its smoothness. Michi's broth is frothy, and I think has a little more character and meaty gumption.

Not eating a giant bowl will also leave you room for dessert. Most ramen shops don't bother with sweets, but Michi serves a restaurant-quality creme brulee! This was the perfect after-ramen treat.

Ryo-san says you need to go to Michi, stat!

Tokyo, Katsushika-ku, Kameari 5-28-17
Closest stn: Kameari

Open from 1130am to whenever soup runs out


Friday, December 5, 2014

満来 Manrai: city lights

On my birthday, Hearts treated me to a fancy French dinner...just kidding! We went to eat ramen, of course. He understands my needs.

I had been longing to go to Manrai for a while. It's located in busy Shinjuku, but the shop stands quietly, like a beacon of light in the crowd of passersby. While there are lines, the shop is so efficient that they move very quickly.

Though the tsukemen looked amazing, it was cold, so we both ordered the ramen.

Ramen (900yen)

The standard bowl comes brimming with toppings: a lot of spinach, bamboo shots, and a giant slab of chashu (which was a little tough and chewy). It's pricey, but I can say the cost is appropriate to the value.

The soup is tender and mild, and the noodles are a great match. Elastic and silky, they have a bright, whiter color than normal ramen noodles. The flavor is subdued, so the draw for this bowl is the easy slurpability of lots and lots of noodles, like a cross between ramen and soba.

That being said, this is a lot of food, and I probably couldn't have finished the bowl without Hearts' help. Ladies, you might want to adjust the noodle portion when taking an order. Just tell the master: Men, sukuname de onegaishimasu.

Manrai isn't extraordinary, but somehow, it's hard to stop slurping. This is nostalgic ramen for all kinds of people, and it showed in the shop's demographics: women, businessmen, families, and couples were all part of the clientele when we ate. This means that they've likely been serving the same taste, quality, and service for generations.

Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 1-4-10
Closest stn: Shinjuku

Open from 11am-10pm


Friday, November 28, 2014

こってりらーめん誉 Homare: thicker than blood

Without turkey for a Japanese Thanksgiving, I went looking in Chiba for something thick like gravy.

Homare is Kashiwa's most well-regarded ramen. A thick miso ramen, it's perfect for these cold times. Winter is coming, and the only prescription is miso ramen.

Miso ramen (720yen)

The miso here is hot and thick, but it doesn't taste as heavy as most places because the broth is cut with shiitake mushrooms. As a result, the flavor is mild and eminently slurpable, one of the best I've ever had.

The noodles are excellent. Chewy, curly, and perfect for this kind of broth.

Red tsukemen (770yen)

The miso tsukemen is terrific too, and is able to be customized according to five different color templates. This one was "Red," meaning it had lots of chili powder and a yuzu citris kick. I could easily see myself coming here and trying out all five styles.

Homare is usually packed with college students from the nearby universities. If only I could have eaten ramen like this back when I was in college...

Chiba, Kashiwa, Asahimachi 1-7-11
Closest stn: Kashiwa

Open from 11am-1am


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

つけ麺 岩 Iwa: sticky fingers

I love cheap ramen! I've written about "one-coin" ramen before (and again), which is ramen that can be had for the price of a single 500-yen coin or less. I'm the designated ramen cheapo, so my next mission was in Shimokitazawa, where the ramen isn't usually one-coin, but I had a special coupon.

Iwa is a tsukemen shop that opened just this summer, just off the main street in a cool basement location. It's spacious inside, with lots of booths for couples and friends.

The noodles are their main selling point, with customers able to choose their thickness level of noodle. There are also a couple limited-time noodle flavors that are made in-house everyday. Hearts and I went with these. I had a noodle kneaded with dried bonito...

Special of the day #1 (750yen)

...while Hearts chose the special of the day: keema curry cheese tsukemen.

Special of the day #2 (750yen)

The soup for both bowls was the same. Pretty standard tonkotsu-gyokai style, with no special features save for the giant shavings of bonito or splatter of curry that you can mix into the broth.

Weren't these noodles supposed to be the shop's draw? They weren't elastic at all, and they were even a little sticky when I chewed them. Definitely not the desired texture.

The curry tsukemen was more like a messy curry udon than a tsukemen.

For 500 yen, I really can't complain, though even the standard price is really good for "limited edition" noodles. Shimo shops always seem to come and go, so hopefully this one sticks around for a little longer.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-12-13
Closest stn: Shimokitazawa

Open from 1130-11pm (closed from 3-530pm on weekdays)


Friday, November 14, 2014

ちよだ Chiyoda: stranger than paradise

Most people don't venture much farther than Matsudo for Chiba ramen. But there is indeed good stuff to be had beyond Tomita, in the fields of Chiba.

See: Chiyoda, a no-frills ramen diner with a rare outdoor eating area, usually occupied by students from the local university.

Chiyoda has a solid shio...

Shio ramen (750yen)

...but their claim to fame is their Tokyo-style shoyu.

Chuka soba (700yen)

With heavy inspiration from Taishoken, this bowl is big, hot, and rich in niboshi goodness. The top is covered in scallions and the noodles have that Eifukucho Taishoken soft, chewy goodness.

For added depth, the bowl has bits of yuzu peel to give it a citrus zest. 

Not sure if this is worth the hassle of a destination drive, but if you just happen to be lost in Chiba, Chiyoda is worth stopping in and taking in the local charm. For some reason, this place reminds me of a dive that would fit right at home in a Jim Jarmusch movie. A little bit of sweetness in the midst of fields and mundane sprawl.

Chiba, Kashiwa, Sakasai 239-1
Closest stn: Sakasai

Open from 1130am-230pm and 6-9pm (open all day on weekends, closed Mondays)


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

麺屋 吉左右 Kisso: charmed

Japanese people love drinking parties, or nomikai, especially when they're organized through the office. Office nomikai are drinking parties with your office workers, and to me is literally an extension of work...even after work or on the weekend. I was in Kiba, on the east side of Tokyo by the Sumida river, where we were supposed to rent and drink on a boat while it cruised around the bay. If only it wasn't an office nomikai, it would be awesome.

I got to Kiba early. I had no idea that there was a really famous ramen shop right by the station. No idea at all. Total coincidence.

About a dozen people were waiting in line when I got there, but it went pretty quickly. The shop is managed only by a husband and wife team. In typical work distribution, the husband does all the cooking, while the wife takes the order and guides the customers to and from their seats. She kept saying "please just wait a little longer, we will serve you very soon," and "thank you for coming" to all the customers. It was very Japanese, but also really nice and polite.

I ordered the ramen. It looks just like an ordinary gyokai tonkotsu, but the soup is mild, tender, and polished. It was clear this soup took a long time to make. Delicate but flavorful, this is a tonkotsu I think most women would like.

Ramen (780yen)

I can't forget how elastic the noodles are. It wasn't just the elasticity; I actually felt the moisture of the noodles in my mouth. Noodles of this quality are really hard to find.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of gyokai tonkotsu bowls. They always have such high ratings on the ramen sites and I expect a lot more. Hearts apparently had a bad experience at Kisso with our friend Keizo a few years ago (they ARE pretty strict on photography), but I think they must have listened to their customers and stepped up their game. This is a very high quality ramen, in a relaxing atmosphere, run by a charming couple.

Tokyo, Koto-ku, Toyo-cho 1-11-3
Closest stn: Kiba

Open for lunch from 1130am to whenever the soup runs out (closed Sundays and Wednesdays)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

友喜 Yuuki: guilty of ramence [CLOSED]

I don't usually go for iekei, the bloody pork bone concoction that originated in Yokohama, but seems to be spreading all over Tokyo these days.

However, I do make exceptions. 100 yen exceptions. That is, 100 yen ramen for the ENTIRE MONTH of October. This called for a visit, and by visit, I mean three trips in the same week.

Yuuki is located right in the heart of Maruyama-cho, the Shibuya club and love hotel district and shooting location of a couple solid Sion Sono movies. Grab a bowl and get your S&M bondage action on.

Not only is Yuuki selling bowls of ramen for 100 yen, they're giving out their premium bowl with extra nori seaweed and a flavored half-boiled egg. I actually felt a little worried for the shop. That kind of price for a food with margins as thin as ramen is simply unheard of. Even the local drunk was waiting in line sporting a shit-eating grin. He also had his shirt tucked into his underwear while twirling a half-finished liter bottle of Black Nikka.

Noritama ramen (950yen --> 100yen)

Let's get right to it: this is, hands down, the best 100 yen ramen I've ever had. But it's also damn good for an iekei as well, even at the regular price. The broth is very thick and porky, though much less greasy and oily than other iekei I've had. Flavorful chunks of back fat float in the thick sludge.

The noodles are legit, soaking up the broth and retaining a medium chew. A confident bowl made by confident chefs.

You can add this shop to the short list of great late night Shibuya slurps. Lum and I will definitely be back here after getting our dance on.

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-18-7
Closest stn: Shinsen

Open from 1130am-3pm everyday (5pm-midnight on weekdays, and a ridiculous 9pm-7am on Fridays and Saturdays!)