Thursday, May 29, 2014

我武者羅 Gamushara: browntown

The darkest shoyu in Tokyo goes to Gamushara.

A counter-only shop in Hatagaya, one of the more competitive ramen stations in the city, and an all-around cool, under-the-radar hangout. Gamushara's bowls are deep and flavorful specialities from the Niigata region, where lots of rain creates a land primed for agriculture. Niigata specializes in delicious sake, rice, sushi, and soy sauce from the nearby Sado Island. Gamushara's shoyu is their ingredient-du-jour

They had a special limited-time spicy bowl...

...but their shoyu-shoga ramen is the one to order.

Shoyu-shoga ramen (720yen)

Gamushara tops their already rich shoyu with a generous dollop of ginger grated freshly in house. Some customers were asking for less, as the bowl can get pretty spicy.

Fresh, springy noodles that turned a dark hue from soaking in the shoyu. If only I could turn a brown hue from soaking in shoyu for hours.

Now THAT is shoyu. Young and tan and deep and lovely.

A little samurai hides inside the bowl and imparts good luck to whoever is man enough to finish it. On weekends the shop turns into Yahiko for thick-ass Niigata miso, a rich and filling bowl that is one of the best ramen for cold weather. Its sister shop, Dokkan, serves a niboshi shoyu as well. Expect more Love to show up at these shops soon.

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Hatagaya 2-1-5
Closest stn: Hatagaya

Open from 1130am-3pm and 5pm-midnight (closed on weekends)


Friday, May 23, 2014

中華ソバ 櫻坂 Sakurazaka: up on poppy hill

It's been getting hot and the people of Tokyo have begun to wear summer clothing. But when the sun goes down, a chill sets in, and we must seek shelter in an inviting ramen inn for the night.

Disillusioned with my last bowl, I was craving a good bowl. After shopping in Shibuya, a quiet shop came across the radar on Sakuragaoka hill, a laid back and sleepy area of Shibuya. Hearts has been to Sakurazaka before, and remembered liking it.

There was no line, but customers flooded in once we were seated. A good sign.

I ordered the shoyu chukasoba...

Chukasoba (700yen)

...and Hearts ordered the shiosoba. Despite the names of these bowls, these are still ramen. "Chuka soba" is a classic way to refer to ramen, acknowledging the Chinese roots ("chuka" means Chinese), while also pairing it with the Japanese "soba" noodle to signify the local influence.

Shiosoba (700yen)

I definitely got the better bowl. The soup has good balance with both rich fish and pork taste. Seabura, or pork back fat, floats on the top of the soup, giving the bowl that extra something, but it's not greasy at all.

The noodles are of medium thickness, reasonably smooth and elastic. I devoured this bowl.

Hearts' bowl was supposedly a shio tori paitan, but it was just a syrupy chicken soup, the kind you could get at any cafeteria. Such a big difference in the quality of the bowls. Sakurazaka's shoyu chukasoba is definitely worth eating, and I can count it as one of the better bowls in Shibuya.

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Sakuragaoka-cho 17-10
Closest stn: Shibuya

Open from 1130am-11pm (until 9pm on Sundays)


Friday, May 16, 2014

東京アブラーメン Tokyo Aburamen: clean oil, high performance [CLOSED]

The ramen scene in Shimokitazawa is definitely picking up. And that's a good thing, as Shimo is definitely one of the best places in all of Tokyo to be.

Tokyo Aburamen comes from the Yaro Ramen guys, creators of a Jiro-kei ramen that is loaded with even more toppings and disgusting animal drippings (one day we'll review a Jiro-kei shop, but we must mentally and physically prepare for that day).

Aburamen is an abura soba shop (for instructions on how to eat abura soba, see here). Soupless noodles mixed with oils and meats or veggies. One might expect a massive, bean-sprout laden abura soba dripping with oil coming from the likes of Yaro. However, Aburamen is clean in every angle, from the sharp woods of the counters to the colorful appearance of the bowl itself.

The torishio aburamen is the standard bowl.

Torishio aburamen (750yen)

Laden with high quality oil derived from the cartilage of domestic chickens, this shop is aiming to be a gourmet rival to (or ripoff of?) GACHI. Mix the fat from the bottom of the bowl until the noodles are covered in fat and oil. Eat about one-third and mix in some of green and white onions, as well as spicy tenkasu fried bits. Add some sweet vinegar for the final third for a very fresh finish.

The karamiso tantaamen provides more of a kick.

Karamiso tantaamen (880yen)

Mix in the fat, oil, and spicy pork for a much richer experience. This bowl was a little greasier, but neither were as bad as something at Jiro, Yaro, or any of the other smashmouth bowls.

The shop's clean appearance and colors belie what is inside the bowls themselves - fresh ingredients prepared with some good attention to detail. All bowls are accompanied by a bowl of clean chicken broth to cleanse the palate, as if the oil-bomb you just consumed never happened.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-14-3
Closest stn: Shimokitazawa

Open from 11am-11pm


Friday, May 9, 2014

ラーメン きら星 Kiraboshi: splinter cell

Japan is now still feeling the remnants of san-kan-shion, which is a saying expressed during the time between winter and spring means that "3 cold days, then 4 warm days." Even in May, we still need jackets, which also means that there are still days where I feel like rushing into a ramen shop to warm my body.

Kiraboshi was my shelter for the day.

This shop is very famous for a rich and sticky tonkotsu. I'm not a big fan of this style, so I was a little anxious beforehand.

Kiraboshi tokusei tonkotsu (880yen - good value!)

The huge chashu covers the bowl like a big pork blanket. Great smell.

The thin and curly noodles are a good match with the broth, but I got tired of eating this midway through. I felt the bowl got gradually more salty and cloying as I ate. I was happy I ordered only a half-portion of noodles, but if you like super rich tonkotsu, you'll probably be a big fan of Kiraboshi.

One final slap to the face: the door to the shop is made from wood, and I got a deep splinter when I was leaving. I don't think I'll have anything to do with this shop.

Tokyo, Musashino City, Kyonancho 3-11-13
Closest stn: Musashi-sakai

Open from 1130am-3pm and 530-9pm


Sunday, May 4, 2014

中華蕎麦 とみ田 Tomita: simply the best?

Tomita is possibly the most reviewed ramen shop in all of Japan. It has been ranked #1 in the respected Ramen Database for several years, with a near perfect number of 99.007 at the time of this writing. It's also a two-time champion of the Grand Tsukemen Festival. And yet despite all the accolades, Tomita-san continues to run this small shop just outside of tokyo like a sleekly run neighborhood joint, steadfast in his refusal to let anyone but himself make your bowl.

Every major ramen blogger has made the trek out to Matsudo, waited in the obscenely long line, and sat at the tiny counter to be served your bowl by Tomita-san himself. What more can I add to the Google searches and endless photo collages of the same meal? It's perhaps a rite of passage that anyone who is serious about ramen puts in the time and serves up the requisite praise.

I actually first made it out to Tomita about five years ago and waited nearly two hours, but this time, I happened to go on a day where the wait was the shortest I've ever seen it. The staff told me that there is usually one inexplicable day like this a month, where the lines are as short as 15 minutes. To-go packs of pre-made noodles and broth are also available.

Tokusei tsukesoba (950yen)

It's pretty hard not to go with the tokusei tsukesoba, or "special" tsukemen, but be forewarned: with extra slices of thickly cut chashu, perfectly half-boiled seasoned egg, and several sheets of crisp nori, this is a lot of food.

When I went five years ago, I thought that Tomita was, hands down, the best bowl of anything I'd ever had. The broth was incredibly rich, with chunks of pork and flecks of sardine sticking to every noodle, which were also the chewiest and slipperiest I ever had. The egg was so perfectly half-boiled, with gooey bits of yolk and white, that I spent weeks failing to try to make one for myself. The chashu was beautiful, with just the right balance of fat to meat. I couldn't believe such balance and deep flavor was possible.

Five years later? It's still a great bowl, well worth heading to Matsudo for, though I'm not sure I'd ever wait two hours for it again. Tonkotsu-gyokai is, well, tonkotsu-gyokai. There isn't a great deal of variation in the style, and there are lots of similarly excellent bowls all over Tokyo now. Tomita is still great, and the fact that a perfectionist like Tomita-san himself oversees the kitchen is a special experience. It still might be the best tsukemen in Japan on balance (though this place was amazing when I had it at the Tsukehaku two years ago).

Make sure you get a soup wari at the end. Tomita does it special, adding bits of yuzu peel, scallions, and what seems to be even more chunks of pork. Refreshing, but also like another small meal.

Who can say what ramen is "number one?" Tomita is a shop with character.

Chiba, Matsudo-shi, Matsudo 1339
Closest stn: Matsudo

Open from 1030am to whenever soup runs out (usually around 5-6pm)