Tuesday, November 29, 2016

博多ラーメン ばりこて Barikote: porco rosso

How have I not come here before? Barikote is among the handful of best Hakata ramen shops in Tokyo. On a rain-soaked typhoon night, this was the perfect post-drinking ramen.

Hakata ramen (650yen)

Appropriately priced, this is Hakata ramen at its finest - cheap, quick, stinky soul food. Barikote's broth is cloudy and white, made from 100% pork bones boiled for over 16 hours. No cheating with fish soup, chicken, or vegetables here. Surprisingly, this broth is mellow and easy to drink, packing all of the punch of a thick pork stew with none of the heaviness.

The noodles are fantastic, handmade and shipped in from the main shop in Nagahama, Kyushu every single day.

I recommend eating the noodles and drinking only a minimal amount of the soup. Then, order a half or full kaedama 替え玉 (extra portion of noodles) for a mere 50 or a 100 yen more. Trick out your second helping with the standard spicy takana greens, pickled pink ginger, and copious amounts of grated garlic and sesame seeds.

Maybe shops like this are a dime a dozen in Hakata, but Barikote's pure, piggy, and fulfilling tonkotsu is a rarer beast in Tokyo.

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Koenji Minami 1-30-15
Closest stn: Higashi-Koenji

Open from 1130am-3pm and 530pm-2am (closed Mondays)


Saturday, November 5, 2016

らぁ麺 やまぐち辣式 Yamaguchi Ratsushiki: salt n' pepper

Sometimes, I'm tempted not to blog about my favorite ramen shops, lest they become overrun by tourists. Yamaguchi's latest shop falls under such consideration. This is Yamaguchi's second shop after his shoyu shop in Takadanobaba, one of Hearts two or three favorites in the city.

"Ratsushiki" is difficult to translate exactly into English, but might best be defined as "sharp style." This is ramen with bite. They only serve a mapotofu-inspired mazesoba...

Mara mazesoba with small rice (800yen)

...and a shio ramen (always get the wontons).

Shio ramen with shrimp wontons (930yen)

First off, the shio. This is not a side endeavor for Yamaguchi-san. The soup - beautiful and golden - has an addictive quality that makes one not want to put the ladle down. You could call this ramen "crack style." The flavor of the ingredients used to derive the dashi - seaweed, scallops - is very strong, but work in harmony. This soup could be served in an expensive Japanese kappo dinner. I doubt I'll taste a better ramen than this one in 2016.

The mara mazesoba was a totally different beast. Yamaguchi-san told us that he loves mapotofu and was inspired to make a ramen out of it. Lots of Chinese-style diners serve mabo ramen, but he found that the tofu made the bowl too watery, so his mabo mazemen eliminates the tofu for a pure umami experience. The spicy paste, numbing pepper, and combination of ground and chopped pork provides a counterpunch to the refined shio. Despite being spicy, the flavor is never overwhelming, and you can taste the quality of the bowl until the very last slurp. For those who want a less intense and more creamy experience, add the onsen tamago soft-cooked egg. Definitely order a side of white rice to make sop up the last remaining bits of sauce.

I thought Yamaguchi-san only made shoyu ramen, but his expanded offerings blew my mind. The only thing I wish is that his shops were closer to my home and work.

Tokyo, Koto-ku, Toyocho 4-6-3
Closest stn: Toyocho

Open from 1130am-3pm and 530-9pm (closed Thursdays)


Thursday, October 20, 2016

麺屋 一楽 Ichiraku: stay with you

Ichiraku is one of the thickest bowls of chicken sludge in the city. Made from whole chickens boiled for hours on end by the solitary chef of the shop, its a rich bowl with collagen character.

Noko tori paitan (770yen)

Open until 1am on weekdays and located about 30 seconds from Iidabashi station, this is post-drinking tori paitan if you have the stomach for it. The broth is bubbling when its plopped in front of you and the medium-width noodles are stringy and chewy. The whole thing looks and feels a little wet and sloppy, and your lips will be glistening with grease and oil and chicken fat after about two minutes.

But you'll finish it, especially after a late summer night of beers. You might regret not ordering an extra helping of the thinly sliced, fatty chicken chashu, and you also might regret eating the whole thing an hour later. Ichiraku's thick paitan will stay with you, for better and worse.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Fujimi 2-3-14
Closest stn: Iidabashi

Open from 11am-1am (closes at 9pm on weekends)


Thursday, September 29, 2016

煮干しつけ麺 宮本 Miyamoto: high fidelity

Rounding out our tsukemen September is one of the brightest new shops that opened last year. Miyamoto is yet another high-quality tonkotsu-gyokai, this one coming from a master who trained at the highly regarded Itto.

Gokuko (ultra thick) niboshi tsukemen (830yen)

The signature tsukemen is a broth of rich and briny sludge. What separates Miyamoto from other refined tsukemen is the concentration on gyokai over tonkotsu. Some people might not go for it, but this is a nice alternative to the pork-intensive dipping soups of most Tokyo bowls. The broth is intensely dense, maybe the thickest standard tsukemen broth we've ever had, but surprisingly slurpable due to the lack of meat concentration.

The noodles, supplied by Itto, are immaculate. With great bite and thickness, these are maybe the best thick-cut tsukemen noodles outside of only a couple of those shops mentioned above. The only downside here is you need to order a larger portion, as the standard 200g is less than your average tsukemen noodle pile. This was one of the rare times I wanted more noodles to sop up the thick broth.

Miyamoto also serves up a couple of regular ramen, with a light option for those looking for a less intense bowl. The chukasoba is also niboshi-heavy, though without any pork bone broth to cut the fish, the broth is a little too sour.

Gokujo (ultra quality) niboshi soba (780yen)

Great thin noodles are a nice match for the lighter soup, but you should really get the tsukemen.

One thing that must be mentioned is that the chefs and staff really know how to turn over a counter. There were maybe 10 people ahead of us, but we waited only about 20 minutes to get seated and served. Despite that, we didn't feel rushed and the staff greeted us on the way in and out.

Very good bowls enhanced by a professional operation makes it easy to see why Miyamoto made so many best-of lists in 2015, despite being out in Kamata (also the hometown of Ishii Isami, mangaka of 750 Rider!).

Tokyo, Ota-ku, Nishi-Kamata 7-8-1
Closest stn: Kamata

Open from 11am-230pm and 6-9pm (closed Wednesdays)


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

つけ麺 竹川 Takekawa: the unexpected men

We love walking around Setagaya, and when we are starving, we walk to nearby ramen shops unconsciously. We wanted to try Washo, a highly regarded Taishoken clone, but gave up once we saw the insanely long line. Instead, we went to an alternative shop specializing in tori paitan tsukemen.

Tsukemen (850yen)

I like tori paitan, but sometimes it's a little sticky or stinky because of the richness of the soup. Takekawa's soup looks really rich, and my worry kicked into hyperdrive, but it wasn't sticky or smelly at all. With the first bite, I tapped Hearts' shoulder with much excitement because I wanted to tell him how good it was.

Like camino, Takekawa also serves their tsukemen with vegetables. Where the veggies are the star in camino, they are more like colorful supporting actors here. Tomatoes, zucchini, radish, carrots - all of them organic - gave me a good impression that this shop is considerate of their female clientele.

Takekawa is small, but the warm ramen master and wooden decor made me feel relaxed. Setagaya is a fierce ramen district, so the shop isn't currently as highly regarded as some of the others in the area, but it should be far more popular than it is.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Taishido 2-1-1
Closest stn: Sangenjaya

Open from 12-3pm and 630-11pm (closed Wednesdays)


Friday, September 2, 2016

麺屋一燈 Itto: second best?

Itto is one of the highest ranked tsukemen shops in the country. Among Tokyo shops, it comes in second on food-ranking site Tabelog (Japan's version of Yelp) right after Tomita. We had it a few years back at the Grand Tsukehaku Fest, but the OG shop is always the better bowl. Be prepared to wait well over an hour.

Hearts got the tsukemen...

Chashu noko gyokai tsukemen (1100yen)

...while Lum got the ramen.

Ajitama noko gyokai ramen (900yen)

These are tonkotsu gyokai exemplars. The tsukemen stands out for the noodles: thick and udon-like, with great bite and chew. All noodles are made in house.

The shop serves side pork chashu rice bowls, but you might as well add extra pork and chicken chashu on your tsukemen. This stuff is sliced thicker and larger than most any other tsukemen shop, and is prepared using a special steaming process that leaves the meat tender and pink, but cooked throughout.

Itto is known for a milder, smoother soup than gutsier bowls like Tomita or Seitoku. I prefer the former, but ladies tend to prefer the latter. It's great broth, made from top quality ingredients (sourced soy sauce, salt, French chickens, blends of dried sardines), though we remember it having more umami when we tried it at the Tsukehaku a few years back. Apparently, like many top shops, they underwent a "food renovation" and completely redid their recipe earlier this year.

The chicken meatballs, the shop's trademark topping, are still fantastic.

All ladies are given a sherbet dessert. Men are given the finger. Or an indifferent glance. I forget which one.

Itto is well-deserving of its stellar reputation, though I'm not sure any shop is worth waiting for several hours. Especially in a typhoon.

Tokyo, Katsushika-ku, Higashi Shin-Koiwa 1-4-17
Closest stn: Shin-Koiwa

Open from 11am-3pm and 6-10pm 


Thursday, August 25, 2016

ばいこうけん 東京 Baikoken Tokyo: drinking buddies

Whenever I finish my work, I really want to eat ramen as a reward for the day. I was walking around Marunouchi and I found this shop in front of Tokyo station. Baikoken is from Asahikawa, Hokkaido, a region that specializes in shio ramen, but they've spread out to Tokyo and even Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Shoyu ramen (750yen)

I ordered the shoyu. I didn't expect a lot since the staff wasn't smiling and was pretty cold to the customers. The bowl itself wasn't bad, but didn't have any vivid character. The original shop probably has a different taste.

I've described this bowl negatively, but the shop has a lot of other things going for it, including every kind of ramen (shio, shoyu, miso, limited-time bowls), a lot of appetizers, and many kinds of drinks. If I could drink, I would probably come here to share some appetizers and have some ramen on the side. The menu also has a cute, painterly touch that probably captures the spirit of the main branch.

Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 2-7-2
Closest stn: Tokyo

Open from 11am-11pm


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

臥龍 Garyu: cluckin' delicious

Run by a tough-looking, no-nonsense dude, Garyu is an intimate 8-seat counter that serves up one of the more highly ranked tori paitan options in the city.

Garyu's highlight is their preservative-free chicken soup, which isn't as creamy and cloying as some other thick porridges. Opting for a cleaner, clearer chicken soup cut with seafood broth, this is a subtle chicken soup that packs the umami-richness of other chicken-focused shops without any of that greasy lingering aftertaste that makes your lips glisten after eating it.

Tori chashu men (850yen)

The thin noodles and bright green onions are solid, though the main feature besides the broth here is the fat slices of chicken and pork chashu. The former is steamed with a black pepper coat, while the latter is marinated in a soy sauce blend.

In the summer, Garyu also provides a couple cold noodle options: a wasabi-infused cold paitan...

Hiyashi shamo paitanmen (880yen)

...and a miso paitan hiyashi ramen.

Hiyashi miso ramen (950yen)

Definitely go with the latter option here, as the former seemed like every bite was coated in wasabi paste. The miso, on the other hand, is mixed with some nice chili oil that gives the bowl just enough spice and a cool kick.

Garyu is a neighborhood treasure in Sangenjaya. In the evening, the place doubles as a ramen bar and serves a bunch of other snacks and varieties of shochu. A great place to end (or continue) the night.

Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Sangenjaya 1-35-3
Closest stn: Sangenjaya

Open from 12-230pm and 6pm-midnight (closed Tuesdays)


Saturday, July 30, 2016

麺屋音 Oto: a noise within

Kitasenju is well-known for Matador and its Miso sister, but there are a lot of solid shops that most people don't bother with since the area is so far out of central Tokyo.

Tokusei niboshi soba (990yen)

Oto, serving up another smooth as silk niboshi, usually has a small line of diverse clientele: salarymen, office laides, teenagers going home from cram school, hostesses about to begin an all-night shift represent this lively part of town. Oto, though, is refined, with a corridor that would befit an expensive kaiseki restaurant.

The glamour doesn't stop at the entrance. You are given an oshibori hot towel, and your ramen is served on a lacquer tray flecked with gold specks.

The ramen? Great stuff, with an assortment of toppings and seasonings to vary the flavor. The broth is surprisingly mild, given a freshness with bits of chopped scallion, onions, and yuzu peel, and the thin noodles are a nice match for this soup.

A standout is this chicken meatball comprised of bits of nankotsu, or chicken cartilage, which give the usual mushy texture of the meatballs a nice crunchiness.

Oto means "sound" in Japanese, and the day I visited the shop was noisy with the chatter of a couple young hostesses talking non-stop about non-ramen things. I'd imagine, though, that this austere setting would typically be a quiet meal amidst the bustle of the Kitasenju crowd on most days.

Tokyo, Adachi-ku, Senju 3-60
Closest stn: Kitasenju

Open from 1130am-3pm and 5-11pm


Sunday, July 17, 2016

信玄 南6条店 Shingen Minami 6-Jo: shogun of Susukino

Our ramen journey in Hokkaido continued. After going to Saimi, we went to Susukino in Sapporo. This area seems just like Kabukicho in Shinjuku. Two bowls of ramen sounded crazy for my tiny woman’s body, but we came all the way here, so my doubts blew away very fast. Hearts got a few local beers in Susukino, and after it got dark, we headed to Shingen. Shingen is originally from Ishikari, midwest Hokkaido. Because of the fishermen in this cold area, Shingen is famous for Ishikari-nabe, which is a miso-based hot pot. The miso ramen must be popular after drinking, but they serve various kinds of ramen. Here are parts of the menu.

Echigo---Kara miso(spicy)
Shinshu---Koku miso(rich)
Tosa---Assari shio(light)
Satsuma---Kotteri shio(rich )
Owari---Assari shoyu(light)
Mito---Kotteri shoyu(rich)

These interesting names are feudal domains in Edo era of Japan. Not coincidentally, Shingen is also the name of a legendary daimyo whose attempts to rule the country have been chronicled in films, dramas, and video games. Conquer all the bowls and become the Shogun of Susukino.

We heard the shio at this Shingen was their specialty, and since we also we just ate miso at Saimi, we both ordered shio. Tosa (light)...

Tosa (735yen)

...and Satsuma (rich). 

Half Satsuma (525yen)

I prefer Satsuma more than Tosa. Even the half-sized bowl was bigger than I expected; just seeing it made my stomach stuffed, but once I sipped the soup, I oddly kept eating. The rich bowl has what appears to be a soup closer to tonkotsu in its consistency, but the shio tare gives the bowl a creamy, buttery flavor that is strangely not salty at all.

I had never eaten such a creamy shio before, and the curly egg noodles go fantastically well with the soup. The noodles seemed like they were dancing on my lips. 

When I hear “shio,” I always imagined a transparent soup, but Shingen's creamy shio was shockingly good. I cannot describe Shingen in Susukino as beautiful, but I really like the sticky, oily floor and its old-time shokudo (cafeteria) atmosphere. What both Hearts and I liked more is that we can order half-sized ramen. It is a really reasonable choice for ramen hunters, small eaters, or as post-drinking ramen. Even after a couple months have passed from our trip, Shingen stays in my heart.

Sapporo, Chuo-ku, Minami 6-Jo, Nishi-8
Closest stn: Higashi-Honganjimae

Open from 1130-130am


Friday, July 1, 2016

麺屋 彩未 Saimi: the rambling guitarist

Sapporo is known not just for great ramen, but great food in general, from fresh dairy to grilled lamb and value revolving sushi. The city's claim to fame is miso, so Lum and I trekked over to the top-ranked shop in the city. Saimi is the highest rated miso shop on Tabelog and numerous ramen ranking sites in all of Japan. Get there well before it opens on a weekday and the lines won't be too bad.

Miso ramen (750yen)

Saimi puts out a refined miso in the vein of Sumire or Sapporo Junren, but without the added layers of back fat that tends to weigh those bowls down. Saimi goes heavy on fresh ginger to cut some of the fermented saltiness of the miso, and adds in several little touches to vary the texture, from the chewy bits of pork to the thin and crunchy menma. They also use a very high quality miso blend, with a tonkotsu soup that is also cut with some gyokai broth. The result is a bowl that is smooth to the very end, without any cloying miso aftertaste, and one of the very few miso bowls I didn't get sick of midway through.

Another reason this bowl is so strong is the chewy yellow noodles, a staple of most miso bowls. These are springy and full of hearty bite. Some of the best noodles of any bowl I've ever had.

Whether or not Saimi is your number one is all a matter of taste and perspective, but at worst, this is a very accessible bowl that doesn't inspire haters, and at best, is one of the smoothest, most balanced bowls of miso in the country.

Hokkaido, Sapporo, Toyohira-ku, Misono 10-5-3-12
Closest stn: Misono

Open from 11am-315pm and 5-730pm (closed Mondays)