Sunday, April 26, 2015

Kazuya (Tokyo-to, Meguro-ku)

支那ソバ かづ屋
しなそば かづや
Shinasoba Kazuya

Shirunashi tantanmen: 15 / 20

Wontonmen: 15 / 20

I had to be at Meguro station that evening, and wanted to continue my soupless-ramen comparison before leaving Tokyo. There were not many highly ranked abura soba or mazemen in the area (translate: ‘there were none’), but I could find a well respected restaurant that offered many dishes, including a soupless tantanmen. My friend ordered the specialty of the shop, their wanton ramen. As for me, it had been a while I did not have tantanmen, despite my love of this dish, so I had to try this - interestingly, it came with a side-bowl of broth.

Sauce: A spicy sauce flavored with peanuts and coriander and some spicy, sour laiu.

Noodles: The real letdown of what could have been an awesome bowl: much too soft to my taste (the Chinese influence, I guess).

Meat: As usual, a good and high-quality minced beef meat.

Toppings: There were a few bits of cashew nuts (I guess) sprinkled on the whole thing.

Soup (in the side-bowl): A very good clear broth with a strong niboshi taste.

This bowl had everything to appeal to me: I love tantanmen, I love coriander, I love niboshi broth – so how much could I love the combination of the three? Despite this, those very soft noodles really kind of ruined the harmony – with firmer noodles, it could really have deserved a 17/20. Also, I think that it might be a good idea for the cook to cut the coriander in small bits to infuse more the taste inside the dish (maybe on a side plate for those who don’t like coriander!). But anyway, this is a recommended bowl for sure.

The wantonmen was good too:

Soup: It had a weaker taste of niboshi than the side-bowl of the Shirunashi tantanmen, but it was definitely present.

Meat: A couple of bits of yakibhutan (you know, these chinese-inspired pork slices with a red edge) that did not taste anything special and were therefore quite superfluous.

Toppings: Wonton, obviously, and good ones! With a strong taste of lemongrass. Also, some soft menma with a classical taste.

As the cook explained, both broth are made by a mix of niboshi dashi (I'm not sure if it was the tare, or another soup) and torigara/tonkotsu clear soup that they mix at the last minute. The only difference between the side-bowl of the shirunashi tantanmen and the soup of the wantonmen lies in the mix – there is more niboshi dahshi in the side-bowl, obviously.

More info on ramendb.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kokoro (Tokyo-to, Ota-ku)

麺屋 こころ
Menya Kokoro

Shio Mazemen: 17 / 20

Continuing my soupless-ramen run, after a couple of abura soba, it was time for some mazemen. I was not far from Oookayama (yes, there are three ‘o’s), which happens to be a surprisingly rich area in high quality ramen – or maybe not that surprisingly, as it is just next to a campus of Tokyo Tech university. I chose to go to Menya Kokoro, which specializes in mazesoba. Their specialty is a spicy Taiwan mazemen, but both my stomach and my curiosity were suggesting me to turn instead to a rare shio mazemen (I had already eaten an excellent Taiwan mazemen at Marusho in Osaka).

Noodles: Thick and relatively soft - but despite my preference for firm noodles, I must admit that it fitted well with the rest of the ingredients when mixed.

Meat: A few dices of braised meat, with a lot of fat – but a deliciously, melting fat! One of the highlights of the bowl.

Toppings: Some crunchy, sesame-flavored thin slabs of menma, a little bit of katsuo-powder, some bits of nori, some negi that was also flavored with sesame, some mitsuba. You can also add  garlic.

Once mixed, this changed into a very pleasant mix. Adding laiu (spicy oil) is very much recommended. You should really mix it very thoroughly - and several times - when you are eating, as some essential ingredients like the garlic or the pepper have a tendency to fall down into the bowl (you can borrow a spoon to finish it to the last drop!). Overall, this was excellent, and very original. Next time, I won’t miss their Taiwan mazesoba.

More info on ramendb.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Menya Susuru Ni (Tokyo-to, Meguro-ku)

麺や すする 弐
めんや すする に
Meny Susuru Ni

Abura soba: 15 / 20

This low-key restaurant was conveniently located for me and had abura soba on the menu - which I was in the mood to try more, after trying the solid Abura Gumi the day before. As I arrived there, I discovered that this was not the speciality of the shop, which prides itself for its very spicy ramen and tsukemen. Whatever: abura soba I wanted, abura soba I ordered.

Noodles: Firm and a bit thicker than at Abura Gumi, very good!

Meat: A slice of lean and braised meat, quite good.

Toppings: A raw egg. Some white and green negi. Some hot bean sprout sprinkled by bonito flakes. Some thin slabs of menma, sweetish and mild (they did not have the typical taste of preserved bamboo), quite good I must say. Some dried ramen noodles, like at Junk Garage.

This experience was quite interesting: although basically all ingredients were better individually than at Abura Gumi (especially the noodles!), after mixing everything, I obtained a nice but not so remarkable mix - some ingredients (like the dry ramen) became just undetectable. However, adding the vinegar, some pepper, and especially the spicy home mix, made it much more enjoyable. Interestingly, this seems to be quite low in salt. The whole thing had a less carbonara feel than the day before, and more Asian notes thanks to the spicy mix. Towards the end, the taste of bonito became more concentrated. A good option to try abura soba if you are in the area.

More info on ramendb.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Menya Sou (Tokyo-to, Meguro-ku)

麺屋宗 -sou- (中目黒店)
Menya Sou

Shio ramen with ajitama: 16 / 20

One month ago, I could try Meny Sou at the Ramen Expo in Bampaku kinen koen in Osaka and had been hugely disappointed. I could not believe that their ramen would be that unremarkable, so on the first occasion I went back to Tokyo, I ran there to try it at one of the real shops. Good idea: it was WAY better.

Broth: A very good shio broth, intense in taste, with clear onion notes (there are actually bits of dried onion in the broth).

Noodles: Slightly curly, neither firm nor soft, they have an interesting texture in mouth - they get soft a bit too quick to my taste though.

Meat: A very good slice of firm, lean braised meat.

Egg: A good egg, with a very well infused white part, slightly sweet, but a bit too soft. The yolk was well cooked, gooey on the liquid side.

Toppings: A long menma with a curious jagged shape, soft and mild - but with a distinctive classical taste, infused with the broth. Some mizuna. You can also help yourself with pepper (I recommend it!) or plum vinegar (I’m less convinced by this one).

Definitely, this had nothing in common with the uninteresting broth I got at the Ramen Expo one month earlier. I really think that ramen events, although fun and sympathetic, are not the best way to discover a good ramen - except maybe for ramen with a powerful broth (my two niboshi ramen there - Katoya and Nagi - were great experiences).

Anyway, this is one of the great ramen of the capital city - I may prefer Mendokoro Ginzasa or Shirohachi, but it follows closeby. As some of the ramen blogs below have pointed, this is better than the more famous AFURI - indeed, way better.

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Ramenate, Ramen Walker, Ramen Adventures (for a limited edition), Ramenislove (limited edition also), Go Ramen!, Ramen Tokyo, Tokyo Family Guy.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Abura Gumi (Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku)

東京油組総本店 (西新宿組)
とうきょう あぶらぐみ そう ほんてん
Toukyou Abura Gumi Sou Honten

Abura soba + toppings A: 14 / 20

I wanted to eat a quick bowl somewhere in Western Shinjuku when I stumbled upon this shop of this famous abura soba branch. It had been a while that I wanted to try it, so that looked like the perfect opportunity! Especially given that I wanted to eat several ramen (or ramen-like) dishes in the next days, and abura soba, without soup, is arguably lighter than, say, a triple tonkotsu-torigara-shoyu ramen... You can order the abura soba with customed toppings, or with two sets of toppings, ‘A’ and ‘B’. I chose the former.

Sauce: Good, and as usual, you can help yourself of vinegar and layu.

Noodles: Not so firm and had very little taste by themselves - although that's not really a problem anymore once you have mixed everything.

Egg: A classical half-boiled ontama.

Meat: A few long dice of pork with a classical pork taste, nothing really remarkable.

Toppings: Some warm and crunchy menma, thin and long, not bad. Some nori stripes, and white and green negi - actually too much negi for my taste, the taste was a bit overpowering when finishing the bowl.

As you can see, no ingredient is really exceptional in itself. And yet, once you have vigorously mixed everything and added vinegar (I would not put too much of it) and layu, you get a fairly satisfying mix. I recommend adding some pepper, it is in my view essential to the success of the bowl. The egg taste is very present and I’m not optimistic on the quality of the bowl without it.

In conclusion, this is a convenient and good chain for an introduction to abura soba, before turning towards more elaborated bowls at places like Miharu or Ikaruga. As a note, it is relatively expansive though, at 720 yens for the regular bowl and 180 yens for the toppings - if you stay with the ‘regular’ size, as I always do. Oh, and a note on the counter confirmed to me that compared to ramen, you get proportionally less salt and less fat - that's quite believable in my opinion, and may be something to consider.

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Ramen Adventures. Go Ramen!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Buson (Nagano-ken, Nagano-shi)

Menya Buson

Tsukesoba: 13 / 20

Buson soba: 15 / 20

Agosoba: 14 / 20

Nagano prefecture is a pleasant place to go in winter: skiing, seeing monkey bathing in onsen, watching the snow falling... Does enjoying good ramen to the list? To have an idea about that, we went to Buson, the second most highly ranked ramen place in the prefecture on ramendb, and conveniently located near the station. We ordered the tsukesoba, the buson soba, and the agosoba. Let's start with the former.

Broth: A torigara-katsuo broth, a bit fat and simple, that did not stick enough to the noodles.

Noodles: A bit too soft. Is it because I asked them atsumori?

Meat: A few thick dices of meat with some good melting fat.

Toppings: A few mild, thick menma, most of them very firm and fibrous - too much! Lots of white negi. You can also add some mix of spices of yuzukoshio, garlic and momiji oroshi.

Soup wari: You get some chicken broth for the soup wari which changes the not so remarkable broth into an excellent, kind-of-creamy soup. This saved the bowl.

The Buson ramen was less fat than the tsukemen broth and had a more punchy and complex taste - although the soup wari of the tsukemen may have been better. The meat was thick and similar to the one in the tsukemen, and the noodles firmer.

The agosoba uses flying fish for dashi - an interesting twist, although it's difficult to taste the difference. The broth was a bit lighter, kind of intermediate between the buson ramen and a shio broth. I preferred the buson ramen though.

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Ramen Adventures.