Wednesday, March 26, 2014

東京ラーメンストリート店 㐂蔵: Tokyo Ramen Street's Kizo

Gyutan, or "cow's tongue," is one of the specialties of Sendai, Miyagi prefecture. Very chewy and mild, I love this part of the cow.

No, I didn't get to go to Sendai for a ramen tour. I had to settle for Kizo, the new shop by the ramen master of Chibakiya, as well as Chair of the board for the Japan Ramen Association. This is Mr. Chiba's new brand of shop since he hails from Sendai and was apparently aching for a hometown gyutan ramen.

Contemporary design and comfort meets ramen, just like nearly every shop on the Street. This shop had a motif of red and black moose antlers, which was used to make the soup. Actually, I don't know what those branch-shaped decorations are, but they covered the walls and tables of the shop.

Needless to say, I was interested in seeing how gyutan would fuse in this bowl.

Sendai gyutan negi shio ramen (1050yen)

The soup is very clear and light. It's supposed to be made from gristle and pork bone, but it tastes like oxtail soup. The flavor of the sesame oil really brings out the savoriness. It's a refreshing bowl that goes well with the smooth noodles, chopped scallions, and white sesame seeds.

I haven't said much about the gyutan, and that's because it hides in the soup. It goes well with everything else, and is plenty soft and flavorful, but it doesn't really shine in the broth.

There is one drawback: this bowl costs 1080! And that's just for the basic bowl, without any additional toppings. I know gyutan is expensive, but that's even more than the premium bowl at Oreshiki Jun. These new shops are pumping out premium bowls at a premium price. As an experience, it's nice to try, but I don't know if I can make this a regular attraction.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku Marunouchi 1-9-1 Tokyo Ramen Street
Closest stn: Tokyo

Open from 1030am-1030pm


Monday, March 24, 2014

東京ラーメンストリート店 俺式純: Tokyo Ramen Street's Oreshiki Jun

The Tokyo Ramen Street is a go-to destination for any Ramen Lover visiting Tokyo for the first time. It's especially handy for those here on a time crunch, as the street - a row of shops inside Tokyo Station's massive underground shopping mall - packs 8 different shops representing styles from all over Japan. Ramen alleys, streets, and festivals are usually tourist traps, with mediocre shops paying premium rent to attract busy/clueless out-of-towners, but what makes the Tokyo Street unique is the uniform excellence of all the shops. The reputation of Tokyo's Street means that you can't make a bad choice, but also be prepared to wait in longer-than-usual lines.

The Ramen Street expanded its line up about three years ago, though it's recently changed up nearly half of its shops. Gone are Mutsumiya, Keisuke, and Junk Garage; in their place are newcomers Oreshiki Jun, Kizo, and Tonari (run by the same group as Rokurinsha, the most popular shop on the Street). We thought it might be a good idea to check out these new kids on the ramen block, and see how they stack up next to Shichisai and Honda, our favorites.

First up is Oreshiki Jun, a Hakata tonkotsu bowl run created by the Setagaya group (which also has a second shop on the street, the light and refreshing Hirugao). 

You can count on sleek and comfortable interiors with the Setagaya guys. Similar to tonkotsu chain shops like Ippudo or Ichiran, this one is also porky funk fragrance free.

The standard bowl looked a little plain, so I went with the DELUXE bowl, topped with half-boiled egg, extra chashu, and a dollop of mentaiko fermented pollock roe, a specialty of Kyushu.

Tonkotsu ramen DX (1000yen)

The noodles, like all honest Hakata-style tonkotsu shops, can be customized. I suggest going with barikata, "noodles as hard as needles" (if you've forgotten how to order Hakata tonkotsu noodles, see our handy ordering guide).

Considering ore-shiki means "my style" in Japanese, I was expecting some extra personal touches to this bowl, but the usual staples of sesame seeds and pickled ginger or greens came as the standard toppings. There is, however, an excellent spicy miso paste which should be added copiously to give the bowl a unique kick.

Final verdict: this is a damn smooth bowl of tonkotsu, good soup, good chashu, good noodles. It would put the 500 yen bowls at Hakata Furyu to shame, or at least induce some nervous averted glances in a crowded dance hall. 

But it should be damn smooth. I paid 1000 yen for this bowl. That is borderline criminal for a bowl of tonkotsu, especially with no kaedama extra helping of noodles. The DX bowl should feel gluttonous, but it doesn't come close to something like, say, Kyushu Jangara's "everything in the shop" bowl. Now THAT is an oily Akihabara heart attack.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku Marunouchi 1-9-1 Tokyo Ramen Street
Closest stn: Tokyo

Open from 1030am-11pm


Friday, March 7, 2014

喜楽 Kiraku: a serious ramen

Shibuya - the 24/7, fashionable, gorgeous hub for young people. But ramen freaks everywhere love Shibuya for its ramen variety, and Kiraku was here before Shibuya was "Shibuya!!!"

The chef isn't much of a talker, just saying Irasshai! ("welcome to the shop") in a low voice when customers walk in, but he is always hustling to make ramen while supervising his disciples. The other staff work briskly, all movements are efficient, no useless talk here. Everyone has a role, like a ramen assembly line. It was a little nerve-wracking for me, to be honest, but this kind of seriousness is also a sign of seriously good ramen.

We ordered the gomoku-men…

Gomoku-men (850yen)

…and the wonton-men.

Wonton-men (800yen)

The smell of friend onions in the wonton bowl is fantastic. The chewiness of the noodles and the silkiness of the wontons make for a good contrast. The soup looks dark and bitter, but it's actually amazingly light.

The gomoku bowl is a sort of tanmen, filled with fresh vegetables that are crisp and juicy. Both ramens are filling bowls.

Anytime we visit here, the shop is full of customers who crush their bowls in silence. Kiraku has moved their location once, but their style hasn't changed, which is the key to sustaining regulars for such a long time.

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka 2-17-6
Closest stn: Shinsen

Open from 1130am-830pm (closed Wednesdays)