Friday, October 30, 2015

Japanese Soba Noodles 蔦 Tsuta: drifting elegant

Our other favorite shoyu ramen shop in Tokyo, Tsuta is more elegant than Shibata in both appearance and presentation despite being located in the "granny paradise" of Sugamo. When we first went, the shop was still and quiet, the customers silently revering the master's prep work like one would at a sushi counter. The shop is a little more relaxed now, with pop music playing in the background.

The shoyu was chosen as one of a select few ramen shops to grace the Tokyo Michelin Guide. The chicken-stock soup is comprised of a blend of several different high quality shoyu (including a smoked shoyu from Wakayama) and seafood dashi (including clams and konbu from Aomori), but the master recently leveled up the already strong bowl through the infusion of Italian truffle oil. The fragrance and taste now brings out the fowl, but also hints of mushroom. This is a bowl that understandably appeals to Westerners.

Ajitama shoyu soba (950yen)

The shio isn't as eye-popping, but is no less attentively constructed. Using clams and sea bream for the dashi, Okinawan sea salt for the soup, and topping it off with olive oil, this is another bowl that combines Japanese and Western flavors.

Ajitama shio soba (950yen)

Everything here is homemade and uses no artificial flavors or preservatives, including the delicate but firm noodles.

Shio and shoyu serving shops have really stepped up their game in the last couple of years, and Tsuta is one of the best examples of bowls that are approaching culinary art.

Tokyo, Toshima-ku, Sugamo 1-14-1
Closest stn: Sugamo

Open from 11am-4pm (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays)


Friday, October 16, 2015

中華そば しば田 Shibata: duck tales

The summer was remarkably hot, but not matter how hot it gets, the ramen love never ceases. Shibata is a sweaty 15-minute walk from Sengawa station. Rated the top new ramen shop in last year's Ramen Taisho, it's definitely a destination shop, with the master having trained and created many a limited-time bowl at Kichijoji's Raku Raku.

Only open on weekdays, this is also not an easy shop to frequently frequent. Get there when they open and you won't have to wait in much of a line, but the shop fills up quick.

The shop serves both a shoyu and niboshi. Normally we like to try each bowl, but Hearts and I couldn't compromise and we both ended up going with the chuka soba.

Chuka soba with ajitama (850yen)

This is the go-to bowl. The shops takes a page from Hototogisu and uses a mix of niboshi and hamaguri clams for the soup, but also infuses kamo dashi made from large cuts of duck meat, something we haven't ever seen in a ramen. The soup is dark and brown and might look a bit salty, but the seafood and high quality mix of shoyu brings out the clean fat, smoky flavor, and gamey smell of the duck.

These silky Mikawaya Seimen noodles provide the perfect harmony.

The chashu is also soft, chewy, and of very high quality. Hearts regretted not ordering an extra portion, but even the standard comes with three big pieces. A bargain! The pinkness of the meat also provides a colorful contrast to the brown of the soup.

Shibata's chuka soba is umami in every morsel. One of the very best shoyu shops, served in a no-frills setting by a single dedicated master who seems intent on improving every day.

Tokyo, Chofu-shi, Wakaba-cho 2-25-20
Closest stn: Sengawa

Open from 11am-230pm and 530-830pm (closed weekends)


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

たんたん亭 Tantantei: inception

Last year, after a visit to the wonton masters at Yakumo, we asked who the genius was who crafted the first wontons and ramen combination. We still don't know the answer, but we decided to visit the old school mind masters who trained the wonton craft at Yakumo.

Tantantei serves up a classic shinasoba, which is basically an old-fashioned way of saying chukasoba, since the word "shina" is a slightly derogatory way of referring to China and conjures up some vague connotations of Japanese imperialism. In the ramen world, however, shinasoba, as Keizo Shimamoto has pointed out, is just a classic shoyu ramen that is usually served with wontons.

The classic mix (both pork and shrimp wontons) is the way to go.

Mix wontonmen (1150yen!)

The noodles are thin, chewy, and just excellent. They pair well with the niboshi-rich soup.

Half a dozen juicy wontons cover the bowl. The high price is somewhat justified with this much content. Pop the wonton in your mouth, burst the ball of minced meat, and swallow the juices while the flat, silky wonton skin glides down your throat like a comet's tail.

Tantantei serves up a rather pricey bowl of wonton ramen which has inspired a vast legacy of shinasoba practitioners in Tokyo. Whether Tantantei is better than our other favorite wonton bowl, Yakumo, probably just depends on your mood and wallet, as Tantantei's broth has more umami flavor, while Yakumo's shoyu soup - especially it's sublime white shoyu - is more refreshing. Living in Tokyo, we're glad that we don't have to choose.

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Hamadayama 3-31-4
Closest stn: Hamadayama

Open from 11am-830pm