Wednesday, January 29, 2014

らあめん渋秀 Shibu Hide: shibuya late night slurps 1

If you ever find yourself missing a train in Shibuya…actually, never mind. If you're out in Shibuya late at night, you're likely going to miss a train. This might lead to camping out in front of the Family Mart, drinking cheap chuhai until morning, or singing/sleeping in a karaoke booth until the first train home.

But when it's this cold, there are warmer options. The options in Shibuya tend to be porky, fatty soups, perfect for soaking up all that alcohol in your bloodstream that has outlived its purpose. And if you're an intrepid ramen loving spirit, you can make an entire night of visiting a handful of them.

Shibu Hide is the Shibuya branch of the famed Hide-chan ramen chain. It's a spacious outfit, with two floors of drunken revelers turned silent, slurping customers. They serve up a solid, if simple, tonkotsu ramen.

Ramen (700yen)

Nothing fancy here. Just your typical Hakata-style thin noodles (custom made to your desired firmness), a couple slices of chashu, chopped green onions, soaking in a milky white pork bone broth.

Its hours and location, just steps away from the Shibuya Inokashira line, is perfect for that bowl before the last (or first) train. It's also not too large, in case you want another bowl…

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-4-5
Closest stn: Shibuya

Open from 11pm-3am (and until 6am on weekends)


Monday, January 27, 2014

くじら食堂 Kujira Shokudo: whale rider

Located in a quiet residential area, I never really had a chance to try Kujira Shokudo until I got off at the station today. The main reason I wanted to try this shop is that the ramen chef was a disciple of Shichisai, one of the best shops in all of Tokyo. Both places specialize in Kitakata ramen (for a quick rundown of Kitakata style, see here). I also work around here, so it's high time I explored more of this area's ramen.

While waiting for their bowl, good ramen lovers should always pay attention to their surroundings. The chef kneaded the noodles softly before slipping them into the boiling water, almost as if he was imparting his feeling into the noodles themselves. The shop is also tastefully decorated with images of whales (kujira in Japanese means "whale," though no whales were harmed in the making of this bowl).

Time to chow down!

Shoju w/ ajitama (770yen)

The first sip is very mild and tender, though a little too bland for my taste. The chashu is also very good, roasted on a grill so that the smell and juices of the meat are enhanced. But the noodles?

Outstanding. Each bite into the elastic surface of the noodles was like sharing tasty kisses with someone special.

On behalf of a Shichisai fan, I hope this shop becomes famous in this sleepy part of Tokyo.

Tokyo, Koganei City, Jainocho 5-1-19
Closest stn: Higashi Koganei

Open from 5pm-130am (closed Sundays)


Friday, January 24, 2014

麺屋 和利道 Warito: warm water under a red bridge

It's been a while since Ramen Love had a bowl of tsukemen. That's because we had gorged ourselves on them during the Tsukehaku Festival, and also because tsukemen is best enjoyed during warmer weather. When it gets this cold, I want to drink the whole damn soup.

But there are exceptions. Warito is an exception. They serve the usual tonkotsu-gyokai double soup for lunch, but at night serve a creamy chicken and seafood blend that is heavenly. Warito also employs a number of tricks to keep your tsukemen at a steady heat throughout the meal.

This shop is a descendent of the legendary TETSU, which is probably one of the three or four most famous tsukemen shops in Tokyo. The shop is clean and sleek with lots of dark brown woods contrasting with the gleaming silver kitchen, but none of this is self-consciously overdone. Merely, every part of the ramen experience has been carefully considered. This is a very pleasing shop. 

You can get their thick noodles with all the trimmings (flavored half-boiled egg, extra pork and menma)…

Warito tsukemen (1050yen)

…or atsumori, where they come soaked in hot water. Tsukemen tends to cool off as you eat it (hence its popularity in the summer), but if you order them this way, the bowl is piping until the last slurp. Another bonus is that you can get a large portion of noodles at no extra cost.

Warito atsumori (1050yen)

Warito's soup is a perfect winter tsukemen, as its extra thick and creamy, a chicken puree infused with high quality dried sardines and bonito.

If this still isn't hot enough for you, the patrons of Warito dump a steaming black rock into your bowl of soup when you're finished slurping all the noodles, a strategy first pioneered by TETSU.

Add in some fried garlic chips…

…and you have a hearty soup to round out your meal (caution: do not touch or drink the rock). This really is one of the best tsukemen in the city, right by the Ikejiri-Ohashi, the "pond bridge."

Tokyo, Meguro-ku, Aobadai 3-7-10
Closest stn: Ikejiri-Ohashi

Open from 11am-330pm and 6-10pm (closed Wednesdays)


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

阿夫利 AFURI: shio pioneer

AFURI is a popular shop among foreigners and girls. Every time I go, I see at least one group of tourists or expats checking the place out. And I'll often see girls here eating by themselves, which is unusual for ramen shops since they usually cater to sweaty and/or smelly men. I took Hearts here in the beginning of our ramen journeys, but this has been a favorite of mine for a while.

For you see, shio - or salt - ramen once seemed boring to me. The soup was so simple; there was no impact. But AFURI blew me away after the first slurp.

Yuzu shio ramen (850yen)

The clear soup is pumped with high quality chicken oil (which you can order tanrei, for regular, or maroyaka, for rich and oily). Yuzu, a Japanese citrus, accents the soup for a fresh aftertaste. The result is balanced harmony. Both Hearts and I have been captivated by this simple yet complex shio ever since.

There's even bits of yuzu peel!

The noodles are thin but al dente, and there's a good smell of flour. Smooth, like the rest of the bowl.

Even though I don't usually drink all the soup, I always try to here because I can't help myself!

AFURI changed my idea of shio ramen, showing me how delicate but profound shio can be. It's now my second favorite flavor after shoyu.

And if they couldn't get any better, they always play a Studio Ghibli film on a flat screen TV in the corner of the room. This is Hearts' favorite Ghibli film. Have you seen it?

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Ebisu 1-1-7
Closest stn: Ebisu

Open from 11am-5am (great late hours!)


Monday, January 20, 2014

ソラノイロ Sora no iro: ramen prix fixe

To celebrate a special occasion, Lum and I decided to splurge on a meal a little more extravagant than what you're used to reading here. But the insatiable ramen demons inside of us were also begging for a hot bowl. What were we to do?

Answer: a 9-course tasting menu at Soranoiro, one of our favorite shops. Miyazaki-san, the ramen master of Soranoiro, is in Paris as I write this, serving up his mad bowls for a special Ramen Week, so this will be also a mini shout-out to him.

I ordered a Coedo craft brew and we started with some seasoned burdock roots and minced carrots…

…followed by a bowl of winter vegetables simmered in a hot broth.

One must respect Soranioro's use of locally-sourced vegetables. Both of these appetizers were light and served as palette-whetter for the more substantial dishes to come.

A tomato stew full of chicken, mushrooms, and onions…

This hearty dish alone could have served as the main entree at many a Japanese diner, but this was followed by…

A giant caesar salad topped with several large slices of prosciutto. This salad could have fed two extra normal-sized people, or five extra Lums. In between the stew and the salad, we were approached by the kitchen staff and asked how many homemade steamed and pan-fried dumplings we would like to eat. We initially said 3-4 each should be fine, but we began to feel the pinch of the massive portions and decided to scale things down a bit. Good thing, because…

…holy cow were those steamed dumplings huge. Delicious and juicy, but larger than your average dim sum, that's for sure.

What followed was a plate of goya chamburu, or bitter melon with scrambled eggs, that we barely touched.

This is hearty food typical of Okinawan cuisine, but we hadn't even been served our main course yet and we were already loosening our belts and ripping the seams of our underwear.

Pan-fried dumplings, also scaled down to fit our needs. At this point, there was only one thing we had room in our stomachs for…

…Soranoiro's trademark chukasoba, a warm and nourishing bowl of shoyu ramen, sized a bit smaller as a finishing touch to an outstanding meal. We had room for nothing else. Almost nothing else…

Homemade tiramisu

Soranoiro is a great ramen joint, but it's also a great restaurant, period. At night, the atmosphere becomes more laid back, and Miyazaki-san serves the type of home-cooking that he grew up with and that's perfect for the cold winter months. It's yet another reason why this cozy and inviting shop is so popular in this commercial part of town.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Hirakawacho 1-3-10, Blue Bldg Honkan 1B
Closest stn: Kojimachi

Dinner from 6-1015pm (closed on weekends)


Friday, January 17, 2014

新宿モモンガ Momonga: flying squirrel [CLOSED]

Quite an interesting appearance! The sign looks like its made out of fluffy clouds or word balloons. Kawaii! And momonga in Japanese means "flying squirrel." Double kawaii!

Okay, enough of that. We luckily entered without waiting, but a line soon formed outside. Since this is about a 10 minute walk from Shinjuku station, the popularity of this shop was confirmed.

We both were craving shoyu ramen. The bowl has a really nice shape here, and the beautiful layout made me excited to eat.

Shoyu Ramen (680yen)

The soup is made from chicken bones, so the taste is mild, with hints of soy sauce.

I liked the smoothness of the noodles. Because they were thin, they got softer little by little as they soaked up the broth.

I was expecting to enjoy the inside of the shop more since the sign was so goofy, but all the chefs were intensely concentrating on making ramen in near total silence. It made me hesitate to even take a photo (but I did anyway!).

Anyhow, the content here is really balanced. Not too much, not too small, the amount of soup and noodles is just right…to crave another bowl! The shio also looked good, but they seem to have a rotating gentei limited-time bowl as well.

Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-46-7
Closest stn: Shinjuku

Open from 1130am-Midnight


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

喜多方屋 Kitakataya: horse feathers

We were actually taken here at the end of last year by Hiroshi of the bowl-crushing No reason!! as a sort of mini ramen bounenkai, or "end of year party."

Kitakata is a region of Fukushima prefecture that is well known to all ramen lovers. They produce more ramen shops per capita than any other area of Japan, particularly in a style of ramen that is original to the region - a pork/niboshi-heavy shoyu with thick, curly noodles. 

And Kitakataya, run by Hiroshi's uncle who hails from the area, is the real deal. A bowl at a Kitakata shop can be a more leisurely affair than your average eatandgetthefuckout ramen shop, and the shop's atmosphere and menu reflect this attitude. The shelves are stocked with bottles of shochu liquor, so that you can kick back and knock back a few before and after eating.

Kitakataya is a neighborhood joint for the locals, and judging by the large number of families that came in, it's a popular one. Its size is unusual for ramen eateries in Tokyo (though it's pretty close to Saitama),  and you'd probably find a place like this in Nagoya, where space is more plentiful, parking lots are more abundant, ramen shops are catering to families, and life is less interesting.

This scene was filled with people eating ramen in a few minutes

First up was the basashi, or raw horse meat, which is another Kitakata staple. Eating horse might strike some as barbaric, but some just don't know what they're missing. Think of the leanest filet mignon you've ever had, doused with minced garlic and spicy miso. 

We got seconds.

The hits just kept coming from there. Fat, fried gyoza, which we were told to eat with only vinegar…

…an appetizer of menma…

…and a plate of stir-fried vegetables. Japanese home-cooking that is designed for the family in mind.

At this point, I was already bloated off of horse and vegetables like some mountain savage. I didn't know if I could eat my bowl.

Kitakata Ramen (620yen)

But one look at that deep dark shoyu produced a second wind. 

The simple Kitakata bowl here is a good representative of what you might find in Kitakata. Or so I'm told. I'll have to make a ramen pilgrimage there someday.

Many thanks to Hiroshi and family for a fantastic end to last year!

Tokyo, Itabashi-ku, Itabashi 3-27-3
Closest stn: Itabashi

Open from 1130am-2pm and 6-950pm (closed Mondays and every first Tuesday)