Sunday, September 7, 2014

Strike Ken (Osaka-shi, Kita-ku)

Sutoraiku Ken

Hiyashi ramen: 17 / 20

This ramen restaurant is quite famous for its special clam-based ramen, but also features a more classical, shoyu-based ramen. This is the one I ordered - but in its summer, cold version.

Broth: A thick, wonderful fishy broth cooled with ice cubes.

Noodles: Thin, well cooked.

Meat: A cold, lean and firm slice of chashu with a mild taste.

Toppings: Some soft menma, ginger, nori, microgreens, white negi and viscuous seaweed. You also get a side-dish of grated daikon (radish).

The broth was a delight and the profusion of toppings gave a wonderful variety of flavors - I strongly recommend this dish! Add to this a very cool atmosphere, with the high ceiling, manga library, signed shikishi, and you get all ingredients for a great place. I'll have to come back to try their clam-based ramen.

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Friends in ramen

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Men's room Kamitora (Osaka, Kita-ku)

麺’s room 神虎 (南森町店)
めんずるーむ かみとら

Black tiger ramen: 16 / 20

I didn’t know this chain but it looked appealing to me when I passed by - especially since this one shop did not have any review on ramendb yet, and so I could try it free of any influence. Decorated with a few Showa-time style posters, with cool background music, it definitely has a pleasant atmosphere. I ordered the (tonkotsu) ramen, black version (with burned garlic sauce), with little fat (abura).

Broth: A very pleasant tonkotsu broth, very thin (assari), exactly the kind of tonkotsu I like - in the Ippudo/Ishimanji family... The roasted garlic brought a delicious twist. A bit too salty, but excellent.

Noodles: Barikata, as I orderered them.

Chashu: A thick, long slice of excellent chashu with melting fat, really the kind of chashu I love.

Toppings: Some long and quite pleasant kikurage, with a kind of noodle-ish feel that give a plastic-like - but pleasant - twist when mixed with the real noodles. You can also add some spicy veggies on the side.

This was a great assari tonkotsu and it’s difficult for me to find anything wrong in it, but like Ishimanji, not everyone may like this kind of ramen as much as I do. As far as I'm concerned, I will come back for sure.

More info on ramendb.

The chain's website.

Other review: Friends in ramen

Tokiya (Osaka, Yodogawa-ku)

Pork tsukemen: 16 / 20

Tokiya is a respected ramen joint next to Minamikata, with a pleasant restaurant-like atmosphere. I arrived there at 14:20 on a Saturday and there were still two people queuing in front of me, so I guess it is better to avoid the rush hours. They specialize in two kinds of tsukemen: pork and chicken. I ordered the pork one, with the ajitama.

Broth: A very thick and rich tonkotsu gyokai broth, which coats wonderfully the noodles.

Noodles: Delicate, but lack a bit of a chew - very similar texture to the one you can find at Kitanozaka Oku.

Meat: Some dice of relatively unremarkable meat in the broth - they don’t bring anything to the whole dish IMHO.

Egg: A quite hard boiled ajitama. To my taste, it was overcooked, but despite this it was quite interesting to dip in the broth (something that you cannot usually do with a too soft ajitama).

Toppings: A few thin, sweet menma with a curious taste - difficult to characterize, but definitely different from the usual menma.

Bonus: You can ask for free at the end a small bowl of rice in dashi, with some ume sauce, to finish your soup (but you can also ask for a soup-wari if you prefer, which wholly transforms the thick broth).

This is a contrasted bowl, with an exceptional broth (to which it owes its high rating here), slightly disappointing noodles and relatively unremarkable meat and egg. The rice at the end was an interesting experience.

More information on ramendb.

Other review: Friends in ramen

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ishimanji (Osaka-fu, Toyonaka-shi)

Oni-soba: 15 / 20

And here I am, back to one of my favorite ramen restaurant in northern Osaka, Ishimanji. This time, I tried the Oni-soba, a soup-less dish.

Sauce: A delicious mix of fishiness and spiciness.

Noodles: Perfectly katame, as I ordered.

Meat: Two slices of chicken, not bad but nothing noteworthy.

Egg: Half a very decent hard-boiled egg.

Toppings: Some cucumber, negi, chili stripes.

A very pleasant mix. I prefered the hiyashi ramen I tried there last time though, for its awesome broth.

BASSANOVA (Tokyo, Setagaya-ku)


Green curry ramen: 18 / 20

Tonkotsu-gyokai ramen: 17 / 20

BASSANOVA is something of a fame among ramen lovers, as this is the place where Keizo from 'Go Ramen!' has been working for some time. I had been in BASSANOVA during my one-month stay in Tokyo, and it was my firm intention to come back there to try their green cury ramen. Thus, a visit at Shimokitazawa was the perfect occasion to complete my discovery of this great ramen shop. I ordered the green curry ramen:

Broth: A very smooth and creamy, quite spicy green curry broth. Divine.

Noodles: Curly, katame in a curious way - not really elastic, they break into small pieces when you bite them. It’s an interesting change though.

Meat: A couple of marinated chicken pieces, quite good, with a very pleasantly flavored skin.

Toppings: Some negi and hot chili, and probably the longest menma I’ve ever seen - a kind of small, branching menma tree!
My friend had the tonkotsu gyokai ramen (the top left choice on the machine, as I remember):

Broth: A mix of fish and pork, quite good, thinner than - and overall quite different from - the classical tonkotsu gyokai you would find out there.

Noodles: Typical tonkotsu-style noodles, thin and long, they become quickly too soft for my taste though.

Meat: A delightful slice of chashu, braised, with some crunchy fat - so not melting, but excellent though.

Toppings: The menma, crunchy and mild, were also quite different from the one you can find in the green curry ramen.

Both bowls were excellent, but my personal preference goes to the green curry - I’m partial to Thai food, so having it skillfully adapted to ramen was a great experience (even if the chashu in my friend's bowl was a bit more to my taste than the chicken meat of the green curry ramen). This is a much better experience than any curry ramen I've ever tried (I’m not a big fan of japanese curry, I must say). Interestingly, the green curry broth has the same base as the tonkotsu gyokai broth, with some added nampura (fermented fish) sauce - and, obviously, green curry paste. The cook was extremely friendly and I appreciated that he took so much time to answer my questions.

At just one station from the hip area of Shimokitazawa, it would be a mistake not to run there. Another one on my Tokyo's top 10!

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Go Ramen!, Ramen Adventures, Etaku.

Ivan Ramen Plus (Tokyo, Setagaya-ku) (CLOSED)

アイバンラーメンPlus (Ivan Ramen Plus)

Cheese mazesoba: 14 / 20
(I recommend to avoid the 全部のせ version, see below)

If you are at least slightly into ramen, you have probably heard about Ivan, the famous first gaijin-ramen-master. I had tried his now-classical shio ramen at his first restaurant, Ivan ramen in Rokakoen, but was not really convinced - it was good, but nothing really remarkable. I wanted to explore more the extent of what he is doing though, and once I was visiting Shimokitazawa, I pushed a few stations further west to go to Ivan ramen plus, his elegant second restaurant. They specialize in many dises, including a cheese mazesoba and a shio ramen. As a big fan of mazesoba, I had to try this one.

Sauce and egg: A good sauce including four different kinds of melting cheeses - mix it with the egg, and you really get some kind of carbonara sauce with a japanese twist.

Noodle: Linguine-shaped, to enhance the italian feel.

Meat: Unfortunately, because of my poor nihon-go skills, I did not understand that 全部のせ meant ‘a bit more of everything’ (I thought it was ‘with all toppings’, and I didn't want to miss any kind of topping), so I ended up with three thick and large pork slices. Way too much, especially given that the meat, though not bad, was nothing exceptional - and too fat for my taste.

Toppings: Some cold bean sprouts which brought a really pleasant fresh touch to the whole dish - I would have enjoyed more of them!

So yeah, it was good, but not up to the hype I heard around it - pretty much like the shio ramen in the mother shop. Maybe it would be a more exotic experience for someone who’s not used to eat carbonara spaghetti. Anyway, it is a good restaurant for sure, so if you are in the area, it’s worth checking.

Now, I have a concern, that would hold for many ramen shops, but that I am going to explain here. Ivan is apparently committed to make healthier ramen dishes, reducing salt content, etc. As someone who wants to enjoy the diversity of ramen taste but is still a little bit concerned about his own health, I applaud those efforts! But then, why does he put prominently, on the ramen machine, the 'mazesoba 全部のせ' rather than the regular version of the mazesoba, which is certainly much healthier, with less meat included? (it is well known that most of us eat much too much meat for a good health, especially if you are a ramen lover like me!) Given the modest difference in price (1030 yen versus 830 yen), I doubt that Ivan makes any substantial money on selling the 全部のせ version rather than the regular one. It is also well documented by cognitive psychology that people are heavily influenced by default choices - and as it happens, in a ramen shop, the default choice is the top left, as it is generally the shop’s recommendation. So if Ivan is concerned about serving healthy food, then I would recommend him to put the regular mazesoba on the top left, and the 'mazesoba 全部のせ' just below. He would prevent a few premature deaths (statistically) by doing so, those who crave massive amount of meat could still order the 全部のせ version, and for people who chose the default, their pleasure in eating his dishes would not be decreased (generally, the less you have in your plate, the more you concentrate on enjoying what you have). My two cents.

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews at: Ramen Adventures, Ramen Tokyo, Like a fish in water, I am gourmand, Go Ramen, Japan Stripes.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bonito Bonito (Tokyo, Shinagawa-ku)

ボニート・ボニート 『 Bonito Bonito 』

Shoyu 'arabiki' ramen: 17 / 20

After Rakkan, I continued my exploration of the relatively remote - but surprisingly rich in good ramen - Musashi Koyama area.

Broth: Quite salty but good, thickish, very fishy broth (made of katsuo and niboshi, thanks Ramen Adventures for the info) with some hints of sweetness - maybe even some roastiness?

Noodles: Quite firm, and slightly sweet too (probably because of the broth).

Meat: Two thick, delicious slices of chashu, fibrous and with melting fat inside (one would be enough though)

Toppings: Two extremely thick menma, very juicy, with a mild and sweetish taste of preserved food. Some wakame, microgreens and negi.

Nothing wrong here, everything is high quality.

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Ramen Adventures.

Rakkan (Tokyo, Meguro-ku)

楽観 (武蔵小山店)

Palu ramen: 16 / 20

This ramen shop would deserve to be better known. Five minutes away from Musashikoyama station (two stops west from Meguro), it features both a shoyu and shio ramen with evocative names. I chosed the shio - aka 'pale' (palu) - ramen.

Broth: A surprisingly sweet shio broth, sprinkled by many bits of white negi - the harmony with the both was really interesting.

Noodles: Very well cooked, katame noodles.

Meat: A robust, thick, very lean slice of meat. Very tasty, although a little bit of melting fat inside would not have been unpleasant.

Toppings: Thin, very salty menma, with the kind of taste you would find in preserved food. And as I said, an ocean of negi - never seen so much negi in a ramen before!

The restaurant also feature a special version of each ramen, with more meat and an egg, but frankly speaking, the slice of meat was already quite big and more than enough for anyone in a non-suicidal mood. Finally, you can get the oomori (bigger) version for free at lunch - I sticked with the namamori (regular size) though, I eat enough ramen already!

Anyway, it was overall a very original and tasty ramen. I even hesitated to give it a 17, but halfway into the bowl, the strength of ‘neginess’ becomes a bit too pronounced to my taste. However, if you’re a fan of raw onion, then you should not hesitate, run there!

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Ramen adventures

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fuunji (Tokyo, Shibuya-ku)


Special tsukemen: 19 / 20
Special ramen: 17  / 20

On a rainy evening at 20:30 in south Shinjuku, it was a perfect occasion to attempt the usually impossible task of eating at Fu-unji without dying of boredom on the pavement: Fu-unji is famous for its endless queue, but arriving shortly before the door-closing time (21:00), we had to wait only 15 minutes. I ordered the special tsukemen, and my friend the special ramen. Let's start with the highlight, the former.

Broth: A remarkably smooth broth, thanks to the use of torigara (chicken bones) instead of tonkotsu, mixed with fish. I'm usually not a big fan of chicken-based soup, but this bowl did definitely reconcile me with it. The taste was not too strong, even a bit sweet - a sweetness that infused all the ingredients, and remained or even increased with the soup-wari. Eating this bowl felt like plunging in a giant cotton candy.

Noodles: Eggy noodles with the right texture.

Meat: Quite a few long slices of chashu, salty and good, that harmonize well with the rest.

Egg: Gooey, very well cooked ajitama, a bit on the hard side, with some sweet taste that infused the white part.

Toppings: A little bit of bonito powder for some umami explosion. The menma were large, very mild and sweet.

And what about the ramen?

The fish taste is less marked here, it was somehow similar to a soft and smooth corn soup. The meat was more diversified, with some thick, very fat slices, and some thinner ones. Overall, it was also very good, although not as wonderful as the tsukemen.

Eating at Hototogisu for lunch and Fuunji for dinner is a truly magical experience, maybe my best ramen-day ever - both bowls transported me in some kind of aetheral world, soft and clear at Hototogisu, thick and sweet at Fuunji.

A last note: impossible not to think about Michi's broth when eating at Fuunji - although the latest may feel even more like cotton wool. Michi may have an even more remarkable broth (although I would need to try them both on the same day to be sure), but all the rest is more remarkable in Fuunji (the egg, the menma, the coherence of the whole thing, and even the meat). Put Michi’s broth in Fuunji, enhance a slightly little bit the quality of the chashu, and you’ll get a 20/20 tonkotsu gyokai. But Fuunji is clearly in Tokyo's top 10 ramen places, hands down - especially when you add to that the very pleasant atmosphere in the restaurant (if you manage to forget about the long queue of hungry people waiting behind you!), and the very attentive staff.

More info on ramendb.

The official website.

Other links: Ramen Adventures, Time out, Ramen Shaman, Jin Loves to Eat, I'm made of sugar, Go Ramen!

Hototogisu (Tokyo, Shibuya-ku)


Shoyu ramen (+ ontama and yakinori): 18 / 20

Hototogisu had been on my radar for quite some time already, but I never found the occasion to push a couple of stations west from Shinjuku to go there. Finally it was time to try this monument of the ramen world and I went there around 1 pm on a wednesday. Twenty minutes after starting queuing, I could order and seat in the pleasant restaurant; ten minutes later, my soup arrived - the shoyu with ontama and yakinori.

Eating at Hototogisu was a quite holistic experience, and because of this, I should change a bit my usual, analytical way of presenting ramen. The first sips and bites were slightly disappointing: the soup tasted relatively mild, the noodles were slightly too soft and the meat was nothing remarkable. However, as I continued eating, the full potential of all these ingredients started to express and they blended in a truly wonderful way. The shoyu broth, flavored with clam as you will read everywhere (honestly, I would not have identified the taste) had a remarkable sweetness and thin smoothness, which was perfectly accompanied by the relatively soft noodles - it felt like biting on some wadding; the firm chashu, though not exceptional, brought some texture in this ocean of softness, and the four slices of yakinori a pleasant crispyness. The menma were absolutely remarkable: thick, soft, mild and a bit sweet, very juicy - some of the best I’ve ever eaten; some additional, thinner menma and negi were sprinkled among the noodles. Finally, the ajitama was also a model: the tasty white revealed an interesting gradation in cooking, with a very firm edge, and a more liquid inner part; the yolk was gooey at places, slightly firmer at other, but pleasant everywhere. This ajitama was a rainbow of taste.

The whole thing infused a homogeneity and a coherence that I rarely tasted anywhere - eating this with Prince’s Purple Rain on the radio, in front of this bright white counter surrounded by a pitck black atmosphere, made me feel like I just had fallen in some kind of alternative dimension. Shoyu may not be my favourite broth flavor, the meat may not be perfect, but this is a remarkable bowl that you have to try.

More info on ramendb.

Other links: Ramen Adventures, Gastrolust, Confused abc, Foodsaketokyo, Timeout