Sunday, January 31, 2016

伊藤 銀座店 Ito: smooth as silk

Niboshi, katsuo, niboshi. Sardines, bonito, sardines. If it seems like every bowl we eat lately is derived from some kind of fish stock, it's no coincidence. This is definitely the trend for the past year. Continuing with the trek is Ito, which is normally a literal trek away in far-off Akabane, but fortunately just opened up a closer and more convenient second shop in Ginza, located in a building basement that was once probably once host to an exclusive "snack bar."

Nikusoba (medium - 850yen)

If the new Menya Shichisai is a Thai massage of niboshi, where the master bends you in ways that are both energizing and relaxing, Ito's take on niboshi is more of a gentle Swedish caressing of the body. This is smooth niboshi blues, with thin noodles that soak up the creamy and slightly translucent broth.

The toppings here are minimal - just some chopped green onions and, if you desire, some Hinai chicken or pork chashu. The focus is on the soup, of which you can order extra, something I've never seen in a ramen shop.

Simple and elegant, Ito is of its place in Ginza. These are bowls that slurp down easy.

Though the unpretentious manner in which its presented won't draw attention, those who can appreciate solid craft will find Ito a welcome addition to the increasingly refined Ginza ramen scene.

Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Ginza 6-12-2
Closest stn: Ginza

Open from 11am-11pm (closes at 8pm on weekends)


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Bonito Soup Noodle RAIK: like RAIK

The only good ramen shops in Eifukucho have been Taishoken and Kusamura, another sweet shoyu shop. But last summer, another shop was made. As you can see by the title of this post, the concept is bonito, or katsuobushi. There are two types you can choose from, a chuka soba style chicken soup mixed with bonito...

Katsuo x Tori RAIK Ramen (900yen)

...and a thicker pork broth cut with bonito.

Katsuo x Buta RAIK Ramen (900yen)

The chicken has a dark shoyu color and seems like it would be really strong and salty, but the first sip blew my expectations away. It wasn't strong at all, and was actually very refreshing. Some might call this broth too light. The noodles include some kind of wheat, and you can taste the sweetness of the flour as you chew them.

The pork was closer to a tonkotsu gyokai style and, though less memorable than the chicken, was still deep and complex. Apparently, the master soaks pork bones for 12 hours to make the tonkotsu soup, but then spends another two days marinating the broth with the bonito. That's dedication!

Both bowls include a flavored half-boiled egg, two different cuts of pork (seared belly and smoked loin), and a slice of steamed chicken. For 900 yen, that is a bargain!

The master trained at Atago, another shop with a bonito concept, and we could feel his passion for his katsuo. After we finished, there were a lot of people waiting in line, which makes sense since this shop can only accommodate six people at a time. It's a cozy and genuine place, with hip hop music running on a big screen TV in the corner. Everyone should feel good vibes with this cool ramen.

Tokyo, Suginami-ku, Omiya 1-2-3
Closest stn: Eifukucho

Open from 1130-3pm and 530-10pm (closed Mondays)


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

麺や七彩 Shichisai: resurrection F

2015 was in many ways the Year of the Sardine. Shops came out with bold new ways of coaxing richness and depth from niboshiMy favorite of them, and possibly my favorite bowl of the year, was the reincarnated Shichisai. What was once a regular visit on the Tokyo Ramen Street, Shichisai remade its smooth Kitakata shoyu into a gutsy one loaded with niboshi, while also relocating into fancy new digs just a short walk away.

Kitakata ramen niboshi with egg (920yen)

This bowl might not be much to look at, but it belies a laborious process that goes into each and every  order. Like many new shops these days, Shichisai's noodles are made fresh in house, but unlike just about any other place, they are also made fresh to order.

The dough is kneaded, shaped, and cut for every single customer, right there in front of you. When they make it to the bowl, these are the softest and most flavorful noodles in the city.

They are the perfect foil for the rich, intense, slightly grainy flavor of the niboshi broth. Shichisai takes the sardine to levels of peak umami. Each bite just gets better and better until you're scraping the bottom of the bowl. The shop's attention to detail has maintained: the short, crisp menma to the perfectly seasoned half-boiled egg to the fatty and lean cuts of pork all provide the right notes.

They also have the occasional high-quality gentei, "limited-time" bowl. When Lum and I went, they were serving a cold ramen with broth made from exceptionally sweet Toukibi corn from Hokkaido and topped with juicy ham.

Maborosi no toukibi (1000yen)

Also fantastic, with different noodles crafted to soak the sweet corn sludge.

We were pretty sad when Shichisai left the Ramen Street, but, like a true Saiyan, they trained in the hyperbolic time chamber, learned a few new tricks, and came back stronger than ever.

Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Hacchobori 2-13-2
Closest stn: Hatchobori

Open from 1130am-330pm and 530-1030pm (closed every third Tuesday)