Monday, March 30, 2015

Kagari (Tokyo-to, Chūō-ku)

銀座 篝
ぎんざ かがり
Ginza Kagari

Niboshi shoyu: 18 / 20 

Tori paitan: 17 / 20

Kagari… this names sounds like a beginning for me. During my Tokyo stay, nearly one year ago, when I decided to start going to the most mythical ramen of the capital city, Kagari was the first ‘big name’ I tried - and like everyone, I had been impressed by their refined tori paitan. They also serve a niboshi shoyu ramen (also available as a tsukemen) that has been regularly praised, so it was now time to try it.

Broth: No doubt, the niboshi is there, but relatively light compared to some niboshi-bombs like Nagi or Ozeki; the broth gets however more and more of the delicious niboshi-pungency as you finish it.

Noodles: A bit soft.

Meat: A good, slightly sweet, light chashu; and also a slice of red and firm roastbeef, an interesting change.

Toppings: A slice of crunchy lotus. A few bamboo shoots, fresh and slightly acid, a very nice change from the usual menma. As usual, the nori fits extremely well with the niboshi – niboshi is definitely the best broth for nori in my opinion!

A refined, subtle and beautifully crafted bowl. How does the tori paitan fare in comparison?

The broth had a wonderful smoothness and tasted a bit like a high quality mushroom soup, that you can spike with ginger and dry onions. You get a few delicate chicken slices, firm and melting, sprinkled which yuzu zest. The bamboo shoots (fresh, not menma) were good and beautiful. Noodles were a bit soft for my taste here too, although such a cooking style fits better with a tori paitan than with a niboshi broth.

It's a kind of intense experience to altenate one spoon of each broth: extreme smoothness followed by pungent punch, that’s what you call a contrast! Contrarily to many people who blogged on this, my heart lies more on the punchy side and I would elect the niboshi as the real star here, but you should try both by yourself to decide.

Oh and we also ordered the grilled rice ball of rice with mentaiko consomme and fuki miso - not bad, but not a must.

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Japan Times, Ramen Adventures, Ramen is love, Tokyo Pig out, Dining without borders, Japan Page, Kylie eats Japan, Go Ramen

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kinguemon (Osaka-shi, Chuo-ku)

金久右衛門 (道頓堀店)

Naniwa Black: 16 / 20

Osaka Black: 16 / 20

Black shoyu ramen: 16 / 20

Red shoyu ramen: 15 / 20

A symbol of Osaka, Kinguemon was the very first ramen of this blog! The visit of my family was the perfect occasion to make them discover the local 'Takaida-kei' dark shoyu and try many variants - this time at the Namba shop. I ordered the Naniwa ramen, my sister the Osaka ramen, my father the black ramen, and my mother the red ramen - in decreasing order of strength in taste. So we could really try the different flavors crescendo! But let’s review first the stronger one, the Naniwa black ramen.

Broth: The Naniwa broth is a bit special compared to the other one: you get a very simple shio broth (quite tasteless, I must say - if that's the gold ramen, I would stay clear of it!) BUT there is a big chunk of shoyu-oyster-clam-niboshi tare floating in the middle, that you can mix for getting the real deal. Delicious!

Noodles: You can chose between thin and large noodles - the former are recommended for the gold and red ramen, and the latter for the three black versions. I went with the recommendation - the large noodles were good, although not exceptional.

Meat: Some very crumbly chashu, quite pleasant.

Egg: You get a whole ajitama with a very liquid yolk - too liquid for a shoyu ramen, in my opinion. The white part was a bit too soft and not enough infused in the spice and shoyu mix.

Toppings: Some menma, quite soft and mild - not so interesting.

How did the other bowls fare?

The black ramen and Osaka ramen were very similar - even when tasting them side by side it was difficult to convince myself that the Osaka ramen was stronger. The Naniwa, in comparison, had the same shoyu strongness but a distinct additional seafood taste that slightly masked the strong pungency of all the black broths.

The red one was milder, obviously, but had some pleasant spice notes - I could swear I tasted some cinammon!

So, overall, all were very good - I slightly prefer the strong black shoyu taste than the red one, but that’s more a question of personal preference. There was little consistency in the menma cooking - very soft in the Naniwa and the shoyu black, and quite tough in the Osaka black and the red shoyu. And finally, I strongly preferred the large noodles over the thin ones - I would order the former even with the lighter version of their soup (I’ve rated all these ramen as if they had larger noodles - with thinner noodles, they would lose one point). Anyway, as you can see, all of us loved them!

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Friends in Ramen, Ramen Adventures, Sukimatime, Philoramen

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mengenso (Osaka-shi, Kita-ku)


Shio ramen: 17 / 20
(魚元素ラーメン, 塩)

Tori paitan with spicy miso : 17 / 20
(鶏元素ラーメン, 辛みそ付き)

Naka naka ramen: 17 / 20

Naka naka ramen with ontama and seaweed: 17 / 20

Being talked to in a (good!) English by a friendly waiter when approaching a ramen restaurant is a rare experience - so when this restaurant happens to be one of the best in the area, that’s definitely something not to be missed for the non-Japanese speaker. Accompanied by my family, we sat at one of the two tables at the back of the room. We had the shio ramen, a tori paitan with a side spoon of spicy miso, and two bowls of their signature dish, the naka naka, a mix of shio and tori paitan (we ordered one of them with some added nori, and an onsen tamago replacing the regular half ajitama). But the diversity of their dishes does not stop there, they also have a shoyu tuskemen and a shoyu ramen! Let’s start with the shio:

Broth: Where most shio are too light in taste, this one has a very intense and delicious stock taste. Press the sudachi in your broth after you’ve eaten half of it to give some pleasant citrus-twist.

Noodles: Well cooked, neither firm nor soft, just a perfect middle point.

Meat: To some extent, the letdown of this otherwise perfectly crafted bowl: two slices of lean, firm pork with some taste of brine - not bad, but not remarkable either.

Egg: Half of a perfect slightly sweet ajitama: a white part strong in taste, and a firm-but-gooey yolk that is exactly what you need for a shio broth.

Toppings: The nori gave a very pleasant marine twist. You get a generous amount of sweetish menma, which had the classical mix of texture - crunchy under the teeth, and soft inside - brought to the point of perfection! A few small shrimps, chili stripes and negi.

What a delight! When finishing my bowl, the concentration of spices with the sweet menma formed an absolutely delectable mix. If you like shio ramen, you HAVE to try it, you won’t find much better broth around (although it's kind of a tie with Shiogensui - review to come!), and everything but the meat is just perfect.

Let me now say a few words about the other dishes, which have nothing to envy to this one.

The tori paitan has a shoyu tare and was obviously thicker, but not too much compared to your regular tori paitan - it was more creamy than thick. The chicken taste was not so present, but there were some pleasant bits of dry onions and a generous amount of pepper. The spicy miso was excellent and it was good to have it on the side, so that you can decide how much you want to add. A hearthy (but not overwhelming) winter dish.

The naka naka, which is a mix of the shio and the tori paitan, was, well, intermediate in taste. A bit creamy, with a beautiful variety of flavors.

If you choose to take the runny onama rather than the hard ajitama, you can mix it in the soup, which becomes then nicely thicker.

All these variants are excellent in their own way and I honestly cannot chose one over the others. I would just recommend, if you don’t mind spicyiness, to pay the additional twenty yen to get the spicy miso side spoon (in case you take the naka naka or tori paitan) - you can then try it and chose whether you want to add some or not. Interestingly, since the naka naka is a mix between a tori paitan with shoyu tare and a shio ramen, if you order it with the spicy miso spoon, you will then get a rare example of a spicy shio-shoyu-tori paitan-miso ramen! Try to make sense of the traditional four categories of ramen after that... Will a shop go further and add some niboshi and tonkotsu to the mix?

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Friends in Ramen

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kirari (Kyōto-shi, Fushimi-ku)

つけ麺 きらり
つけめん きらり
Tsukemen Kirari

Shio-ton Ramen: 18 / 20

We were supposed to meet with my family in Kyoto's southern Fushimi area for a sake-trip, but they were delayed and I was hungry, so I waited at a nearby ramen-place which looked good. Gosh, what a great idea! This shop specializes in tsukemen, but I was more in a ramen mood, and wanted to try their rare shio-tonkotsu ramen - which I ordered with some additional nori.

Broth: A very thick but delicious broth of tonkotsu - one can actually feel the texture of bone grains at times - with some veggie aftertaste. It sticks so much to the nooodles that it felt like a tsukemen!

Noodles: Slightly soft, but well, we are in Kyoto. I must admit that this fitted well with the broth.

Meat: A few delicious slices of peppery, delicious chashu that kind of tasted like roastbeef.

Egg: Half an egg is included in the regular ramen, so it’s not necessary to order any more. And I must say that this egg is a model, with its melting yolk (but hard enough not to fall into the soup), and a white part infused with strong flavors.

Toppings: Some fibrous menma, with a mild but good taste - more similar to fresh bamboo than to preserved one. The nori sheets I ordered fitted extremely well with the broth and the meat. There were even some fresh garlic you could crush inside the broth.

This is the best Kyoto-style ramen I ever ate - actually, there are many twists compared to the classical Kyoto-style bowl so I'm not sure I could categorize it as such. It was a bit similar to Gokkei in Ichijoji, but whereas the latter was too thick for me, this one just had the highest level of thickness I can stand. It stayed hot quite long, a perfect winter dish that keeps you going.

Delicious, and if I was more into Kyoto ramen, I could have given it a 19 or maybe even a 20: this is flawless ramen - like Takakura Nijo, although in a very different style. Kyoto, home of ramen perfection?

More info on ramendb.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tensonkorin (Kobe-shi, Chuo-ku)

麺屋 天孫降臨
めんや てんそんこうりん
Menya Tensonkourin

Shio tsukemen: 14 / 20

Shio ramen (with egg): 15 / 20
(天降らーめん しお)

Shoyu ramen (with egg): 15 / 20
(天降らーめん しょうゆ)

Mazesoba: 16 / 20

I had tried this restaurant’s excellent reimen during the summer and I definitely wanted to come back to try their other dishes. The visit of my family was the perfect occasion: we ordered the regular (shio) tsukemen, shio ramen, shoyu ramen and mazemen. Basically the whole set! Let’s start with the tsukemen:

Broth: This broth suffers from shio tsukemen’s original sin: not enough taste. It was barely thicker than the shio ramen broth (although more salty and concentrated), which is clearly not enough for a tsukemen. Pleasant, but really lacks some taste.

Noodles: Firm, thinner than the regular tsukemen’s noodles (which is a good thing in a shio tsukemen, as the broth does not stick so much), with a square section, and good.

Meat: A thin slice of meat with some pleasant fat, relatively unremarkable though.

Toppings: A few thick menma, quite fibrous and juicy, excellent. Some microgreens and white negi.

Soup wari: You get some cloudy, thin broth - did I perceive some mushroom notes? Mixing it with the broth made the broth thinner than the shio ramen’s.

Let's continue with the shio and shoyu ramen. Can you guess which one is which?

The shio ramen had thinner noodles than the tsukemen, too soft (why don’t they actually use their tsukemen’s noodles? they would also fit in the ramen). The broth was similar but better, relatively thick for a shio broth (somehow intermediate between a shio and a tori paitan), buttery in taste. There were two halves of an ajitama, well-cooked, although not so tasteful. As you can guess from the picture, the shoyu ramen was extremely similar to the shio, with, well, some added shoyu.

Finally, the mazemen was very good, with the same high quality noodles as in the tsukemen, and with some raw egg and good meat - the whole thing was relatively spicy. All dishes had the same kind of high-quality menma.

Overall, the mazemen had, as often, my preference. The shio (or shoyu) ramen is also recommended, though - but you can definitely skip the egg. Their tsukemen is not bad, but you can give it a pass. And when watching the website, I realize that I missed their tonkotsu-tori-shoyu. Have to come back there some time!

More info on ramendb.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ramen Expo, round 3 (Osaka-fu, Suita-shi)

This year, the Ramen Expo at Bampaku Kinen Koen was structured in three rounds in a row, with twelve different ramen shops at each round. I had been to the first round with Ben from Friends in Ramen (here and there), now it was time to go to the third round with my family - and sample as many bowls as we could! Here are a few short reviews.

Enraku x Jirochou: 12 / 20
(えん楽 × ラーメン次郎長)

This bowl was a collaboration between two Hokkaido shops: Enraku, from Hakodate, and Jirochou, from Kayabe. The shio broth, a specialty of Hakodate city, was relatively concentrated in taste and not bad, but well, a shio broth rarely reach etheral heights in taste. The noodles and menma were too soft, and the meat insignificant. The egg was good, though, and the mushroom brought some originality.

More info on ramendb: Enraku, Jirochou.

Ramen Nagi Niboshiou: 17 / 20
(ラーメン凪 煮干王)

The second ramen was the niboshi broth from Tokyo's Nagi. Superb, as usual, and the thick noodles held remakably well the difficult conditions of the Ramen Expo: it takes some time to go from the ramen stand to your seat, and most noodles become quickly too soft, but the Nagi's thick noodles didn't - that’s really the kind of noodles you need in such circumstances! It seemed to me that the meat tasted less good than at the mother shop, though.

More info on ramendb.

Takemotoshouten x Shimadakeimen: 12 / 20
(竹本商店 × 島田製麺食堂)

Two shops from Akita were collaborating for this third bowl. It had a very powerful and quite pleasant shrimp taste. However, the noodles sticked too each other and were too soft, they felt like some kind of pot noodles. The wanton was too soft too.

More info on ramendb: Takemotoshouten, Shimadakeimen

Raatsuu: 8 / 20
(千葉拉麺倶楽部 拉通)

This bowl from Chiba had a ton of meat on top of it - much too fat, unfortunately. The noodles were thin and elastic, and felt like some kind of industrial ready-made noodles. The shoyu broth did not have any special taste, and the menma were quite soft. Why on earth bring to Kansai such an insignificant bowl from as far as Chiba?

More info on ramendb.

Menya Sou: 11 / 20

I was quite eager to finally try this famous Tokyo ramen, and my disappointment was huge. The broth was not unpleasant but relatively unremarkable, and the meat both too fat and too firm. However, the egg was very good and the menma quite interesting: fibrous, with a mild taste of fresh bamboo - they did not have the typical taste of preserved food that you can often find in menma. The last disappointing note were the seaweed and duck-meatballs (flavored with ginger) for which I paid 300 yens more: the idea is original for sure, but they were very average and insignificant. I’m quite puzzled here, is that really this famous ramen everyone adores? I would have to wait one month to discover that it isn’t... Stay tuned!

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Ramen Adventures, Ramenate, Ramen Walker, Ramenislove

Saeki ramen Aikoukai: 16 / 20

This last ramen was coming from Oita, and had a good broth with a delicious garlic taste - it was apparently tonkotsu, but in a clearly different style from the classical Hakata bowl. The sesame sprinkled on the meat formed a good alliance, and the noodles mixed well with the moyashi. Very convincing.

So, in a nutshell, only two really positive experiences (Nagi and Aikoukai) and four very average bowls - that was not a great success. Clearly, the Ramen Expo is not the perfect place to taste the ramen as you would in their natural environment. Sure, the atmosphere is fun and pleasant, and that's an occasion to discover ramen from other horizons, but some of them are clearly below the quality that you would enjoy in the original restaurant. I had a much better experience during the first round.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Takakura Nijo (Kyōto-shi, Nakagyō-ku)

麺や 高倉二条
めんや たかくらにじょう
Menya Takakura Nijou

Curry tsukemen : 18 / 20

I was quite eager to make discover this favorite ramen restaurant of mine to my family. Being there at 11:10 to avoid the queue, we were unlucky enough to arrive just after a large group of sports kids - so be warned that it can get popular at any time. Anyway, waiting twenty minutes was not that bad for such a great place. My family ordered the regular ramen with ajitama. As for me, I wanted to try the aemen (和え麺 ; that's basically a mazemen); but it wasn’t available on that day, so I turned to a curry tsukemen I had never tried - with, of course, the famous yuzu nooddles.

Broth: A good curry taste that gives a significant twist to the usual excellent sour tonkotsu-gyokai.

Noodles: Yuzu noodles may be the greatest invention of mankind since alkaline water. Brilliant.

Meat: Some bits of meat with melting fat, very good.

Egg: A well-cooked egg, on the hard side, with a very dark yolk.

Topping: A slightly spicy mushroom and a pickled tomato with a slightly sour taste, which both fit very well with the broth. Some very fibrous menma with a mild taste.

Instead of soup wari, you get some rice in your curry sauce for a last curry-rice experience. I’m not a big fan of curry rice but this was convincing - did they also add some cheese?

I could say that this was the best curry ramen-dish I’ve ever eaten, but that would not tell much, since this is only my third one. Let’s put it another way then: this is very probably the best curry ramen-like dish I’m ever going to eat, as I doubt it could get much better than this. If you love kare ramen, you have to try this.

Oh and the ramen was simply divine, as usual. The noodles seemed to get soft a bit faster than last time tough.

More info on ramendb.

The list of all the shops.

Other review: Go Ramen!, Philoramen

Thursday, March 5, 2015

IKR51 (Osaka-shi, Chūō-ku)


Ebi-shio tsukemen: 15 / 20

Ebi-shio ramen: 15 / 20

Nōkō (thick) ebi Z shio ramen: 14 / 20
(濃厚海老塩Z ラーメン)

Nōkō (thick) ebi Z shoyu ramen: 14 / 20
(濃厚海老醤油Z ラーメン)

Last time I went to this ramen-restaurant-with-a-name-from-outer-space, I had been intrigued by the variety of dishes they offer, and really wanted to come back to explore more. My family's visit was the perfect occasion for that. We ordered the ebi-shio tsukemen, the shio ramen, the ‘thick’ shio ramen, and the ‘thick’ shoyu ramen. On top of that, we shared a big ikura-umibudon domburi. Let’s start with the tsukemen’s review.

Broth: Now, that’s what I'm looking for in a shio tsukemen! The shrimp taste of the broth is so intense that dipping your noodles into it immediately coats it with a thick shrimp flavor. Also, the broth is quite fat – maybe a little bit too much for my taste, but perfect for sticking to the noodles. The soup wari turned the whole thing into pure shrimp essence – I think that may even surpass Go no Kami Seisakujo in Tokyo.

Noodles: Pale noodles, firm enough, thinner than your usual tsukemen noodles (which is to be expected for a shio tsukemen).

Meat: A couple of small bits of very lean, French ‘pot-au-feu’ style meat.

Egg: Relatively hard with a very orange yolk, but well-cooked – exactly like last time.

Toppings: A long menma branch, with a fibrous structure, very mild in taste but pleasant. Lots of negi.

Although I’m not a die-hard fan of shrimp-flavored ramen, this dish has everything a shio tsukemen needs to have: a broth that sticks enough to the noodles, and some strong flavor to make the shio base a bit more interesting.

Thanks to my ramen-addicted family, I could discover the subtle variations between most of the ramen the shop has to offer:

The regular ebi-shio ramen was in my opinion the best, nicely enhanced by strong shrimp and yuzu notes.

The thick shio Z ramen was good too, with some added black mayu (roasted garlic sauce), but definitely too salted.

The thick shoyu Z ramen has some interesting sweet notes (some of which reminded me lemongrass, although I may well be wrong), but was even more salted than the shio one - stay clear of that unless your tension is below 8/5 and your stomach immune to cancer!

I must add that all the ramen had slightly too soft noodles for my taste - hence the not-so-exceptional ratings.

Oh yeah, and the ikura-umibudon bowl was great! If you’ve never tried umibudon (Okinawa 'sea grape') I definitely recommend ordering it.

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Ramen adventures, Friends in ramen, Philoramen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Strike Ken (Osaka-shi, Kita-ku)

Sutoraiku Ken 

‘Straight’ shoyu ramen: 14 / 20
’Sinker’ tori paitan: 14 / 20

My family had just arrived to visit me for some time, and obviously our first meal together would be a ramen! I had been to Strike Ken in summer to try their delicious reimen, and it looked like a perfect place for my family's first bowl, as it famously features two very different kinds of ramen: a traditional shoyu, and a more ‘new wave’ clam-based tori paitan. Being in a shoyu-run, I ordered the former, and the rest of my family the latter. Let's start with mine:

Broth: A high quality, intense in taste, classical shoyu broth, with some pepper and herbs for a more Western finish.

Noodles: Some yellow noodles, with a more square section than the regular shoyu ramen noodles you will often find out there.

Meat: Some lean meat with crunchy fat - a nice change.

Toppings: Some thin menma, crunchy outside and soft inside. Some elegant long negi. A sheet of nori, to complete the classical 'chuka-soba' picture.

A good ramen, for sure. And classical. Maybe too classical?

Let’s see how does fare her extravagant cousin, the sinker:

I did not eat enough of it to make a full review, but the tori paitan was good (I don't have so much experience with tori paitan though), heavy on the bone texture. The shellfish was a nice change, but the chicken meat was unfortunately not that great. An original bowl, maybe slightly over-hyped, but surely worth trying - especially if you like discovering ramen oddities in a cool atmosphere.

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Friends in ramen, Ramen Adventures, Philoramen (for the reimen)