Monday, July 27, 2015

Kokko (Osaka-shi, Kita-ku)

Shio Kokko

Shio ramen: 11 / 20

All the places I wanted to go to were close on this Saturday a-bit-too-late-in-the-afternoon, so I ended up at this shio-ramen restaurant not far from my home, which I had been curious to try when passing by.

Broth: A simple taste of chicken soup.

Noodles: Nothing remarkable.

Meat: Some elastic, salty, smoky chicken.

Toppings: Some beautiful purple and green negi, and kezurikatsuo.

An elegant but very unremarkable bowl. No need whatsoever to stop there. If that’s your only option, I would recommend eating something else than ramen - there are so many good options around in Tenjimbashisuji and Temma.

More info on ramendb.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Matsuzaka Gyumen (Osaka-fu, Suita-shi)

Matsuzaka Gyuumen (Suita-ten)

Matsuzaka Gyumen: 16 / 20
(松坂牛麺 )

Speak of an isolated ramen place! Seriously, who would think of opening a ramen shop one kilometer west from the far up north Yamada station? If he wanted quietness, that’s a miss: even on a Thursday evening at 20:00, a few people were queuing to eat there. What’s the reason? Not the elegant interior with a long, modern wooden counter. Neither the pleasant sencha nor the hot oshiburi that you get when you arrive. Certainly not the robotic waiter and waitress. No, the reason is simple: people come here for the unique-in-the-world carpaccio-ramen – locally known as the Matsuzaka Gyumen!

Broth: As you see it on the picture, you get served the broth separately from your bowl, and can then pour it as you like – in particular, on the beef meat that you see in the middle. Ingenious! The broth is a light but intense shio, very appreciable.

Noodles: Kind of whole grain noodles, which stick a little bit to each other and break easily under the teeth.

Meat: For me, the nice thing in pouring the broth by yourself is that you can choose how much you want to cook your meat. Rare? Just pour a bit of broth on it and the rest all around. Well-done? Just pour everything on it. You also get a few bits of fat hormon (offal).

Toppings: Some mizuna, as well as a slice of lemon that you can press in your broth for some enjoyable zing.

At 1030 yens, this bowl is not cheap, but all along worth it. If you’re broke, you can still switch to their other option, a kasu-ramen that I would really like to try some day. This ramen place is far away from everything, but it is unique in its style – or nearly unique, since there is a twin shop in Nishinomiya. If you like ramen-oddities, don’t miss it!

More info on ramendb.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kuso Oyaji Saigo no Hitofuri (Osaka-shi, Yodogawa-ku)

Kuso Oyaji Saigo no Hitofuri

Asari ramen: 18 / 20

Contemporary artworks and rows of Corona beers in a Swiss-chalet-looking restaurant... an oshiburi brought to you as you arrive... this ramen restaurant is different, as should be clear from its name ("the last crappy old man"??). To be convinced, just look at the menu, which offers three kinds of clam ramen: asari ('littleneck clams' - not to be confused with 'assari', which means 'thin'), a thinner-taste shijimi ('freshwater clam') and a hamaguri ('common orient clam'). I chose the former.

Broth: This first spoon was a ramen-experience like I did not have had so many times in my life – one of the most prominently examples was five years ago at Ippudo, the very first sip that made me fall in love with ramen, or Nagi, which triggered my love for niboshi. Wow! Such an intense shoyu, with sweet notes and a deep umaminess from the clams that will sweep you away. The art here is not only on the wall, it is first and foremost in your bowl.

Noodles: Whole grain, a bit firm but not too much, just perfect.

Meat: Two large but thin slices of smoky chashu, quite intense in taste and with the right amount of fat – an excellent fit with the broth.

Toppings: To change from menma, an intense and sweet takenoko – gosh, that might be the best bamboo I ever had in a ramen! Some clams: they were good and a nice change, but after a while, I got a bit tired of them, especially because of the sand to be found in some of them. Maybe the only fault in this otherwise perfect bowl.

Frankly speaking, this shoyu ramen is close to perfection, and instantatly joined my personal pantheon of ramen next to places like Fuunji, Takakura Nijo, Nagi or Kirari. Even if you usually do not like shoyu ramen, you have to try this bowl. Clam-based soup might be my new love after niboshi.

More info on ramendb.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mutahiro (Osaka-shi, Fukushima-ku / Sengoku ramen event)

中華そば ムタヒロ(大阪福島店)
ちゅうかそば むたひろ
Chuuka Soba Mutahiro

Shio ramen: 16 / 20

It was difficult not to notice this funny smiling guy wearing a hat and overalls on the Sengoku ramen event pictures.

It would have been even more difficult to miss him in the middle of the crowd during the event, using a carrot as a microphone (sic) to advertise his ramen. This was not the reason that made me chose his stand, though: as it happened, he was promoting a thin shio ramen with plenty of vegetables, exactly what I needed as a second, lighter bowl after Nibojiro.

Broth: A peppery light broth which had taken the taste of the fried bean sprouts. Very pleasant. It became too fat towards the end, though.

Noodles: Ah, such beautiful noodles! Look at them – do they remind you something?

If you guessed right, you're a real ramen expert: as Ben told me, those are Nagi’s noodles, which offers possibly the best niboshi ramen of Tokyo. Firm, very curly, they surprisingly fitted extremely well with the broth despite its significant difference with Nagi's – those noodles are magic!

Meat: A lot – too much, actually – of firm, good chicken. At some point, I swear I could taste some yuzu notes, but they vanished as fast as they appeared.

This countrysidish bowl was a very good surprise. Unfortunately, you won’t find it at the shop they have opened recently in Osaka's Fukushima area – but as I would discover later, the dishes there have nothing to envy to this one. To meet the guy talking to a carrot, I'm affraid you'll have to go to Tokyo though.

More info on ramendb.

Other reviews: Ramen Adventures 1 (niboshi ramen, Tokyo), Ramen Adventures 2 (tori paitan, Tokyo), Ramen Adventures 3 (niboshi mazesoba, Tokyo)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Nibojiro (Kyoto-shi, Sakyo-ku / Sengoku ramen event)

Kyoto Saiin Nibojirou

Nibo-shio-tonkotsu ramen: 14 / 20

And one more ramen event – the ramen Sengoku! I had mixed feelings about former events such as the Ramen Expo, but I could hardly pass on this one – and which ramen-companion could be better than Ben to go there?

My choice for my first bowl went to Nibojiro, which I selected because it was a ‘nibo-shio-tonkotsu’ – an uncommon mix (even niboshi-tonkotsu is not so common, although it has been popularized by Tamagoro). I like ramen oddities, I love niboshi, so I had to try this!

Broth: The first sip was quite intense in niboshi, but surprisingly, my tongue became rapidly desensitized and the pungent notes vanished, leaving a not-unpleasant-but-not-so-remarkable tonkotsu taste.

Noodles: Contrarily to many noodles I ate at the Ramen Expo, they were quite well-cooked. Congrats, as this is appears to be a difficult feat in such a context!

Meat: A thin, lean chashu with a relatively uncommon taste, yet difficult to characterize.

Toppings: Some miso paste, ground beef and onion. So maybe after all one should call it a miso-shio-niboshi-tonkotsu-tantan-inspired ramen? In my knowledge, only Mengenso managed to push the mix of styles so far!

Overall, a good bowl, but not as exceptional as I expected it to be. I needed to continue with something more exceptional on that day…

More info on ramendb (for the regular shop, with a different menu)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Kukan (Narara-ken, Nara-shi)

Menya Kuukan

Mazemen: 16 / 20

This time, it was decided: I would go to Mitsuba! This famous ramen restaurant a few stations away from Nara, at Tomio, happened to be close last time I try to go there – but it was 2 pm, so that was understandable. As I drew near around 12:20, I was surprised not to see anyone queuing. Hmm, strange. Anyway, I enter the restaurant, get ready to pay my ticket at the machine when the waiter comes to ask me if I have a reservation ticket: all tickets for the day had already been sold out by 11:30, as he told me – unbelievable!

On the other side of the road, a huge queue of probably similarly disappointed Mitsuba-wannabe-eaters were queuing in front of Hanayama, which didn't looked bad either – but there was no way I would be waiting behind twenty-five people. Thus, I decided to turn to this well-kept secret I had found last time, Kukan, and use this opportunity to try their mazemen (be informed that they also offer tsukemen, tonkotsu shoyu ramen, tonkotsu shio ramen, chuka soba…).

Sauce: Quite good, it had a pronounced taste of sesame.

Noodles: Firm, whole grain and good quality

Meat: A few cold bits of firm chashu, with a nice macerated taste.

Egg: One raw egg to mix with the rest.

Toppings: Some excellent bits of fresh, warm bamboo (not menma, apparently), as well as the regular negi.

The whole mix was quite good, not too salty, and the egg gave a nice viscosity to it. You can also add some laiu and vinegar, but I don’t think that it brings much more to this bowl – it is already very good as it is.

I still have to eat a bad mazemen, and this was no exception to the rule. Kudos for the use of fresh bamboo!

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Philoramen (for the shio lemon ramen)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Ikkei (Osaka-fu, Ibaraki-shi)

麺屋 一慶
めんや いっけい
Menya Ikkei

Shio ramen: 16 / 20

Ikkei looks like a high-tech kitchen that has just been finished the day before  although it apparently exists since at least 2009. The large flat screen was the only jarring note in this elegant restaurant. I ordered their shio-ramen, but they also serve some highly praised shoyu ramen and tsukemen.

Broth: Intense in taste, kind of buttery, with a nice balance of fat and salt. Harmonious.

Noodles: Good noodles with a whole grain texture that definitely gives a special feel to them. They are easy to slurp, and break without difficulty in the mouth.

Meat: Very lean and strong in taste, it seemed kind of undercooked at places.

Toppings: A long, irregularly shaped menma, and some greens for a fresh touch.

All in all, this was a very balanced bowl nothing revolutionary but a very good, well crafted harmony.

More info on ramendb.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hiroya (Osaka-fu, Kashiwara-shi)

Tokushima Ramen Hiroya

Tokushima ramen (with raw egg): 12 / 20
(徳島らーめん , 生玉子)

As I was going to the far away station of Domyoji to see some (awesome!) plum blossom with a friend, I decided to have a try at some local ramen. I managed to find a restaurant which was opened on Sunday and had received some good comments. I was excited to see that it specializes in Tokushima ramen, a quite special style of ramen, topped with baraniku and raw egg – I had tried it only at (the not-so-exciting) Todai before, so this was a good occasion for a second try.

The shop looks very much like a ‘roadway’ ramen, quite big, with a long counter, a few tables, and a canteen feel. Seems like a familial business, with the friendly old lady serving people. I ordered the version with the smallest portion of meat, and a raw egg – following the tradition.

Broth: Salty and assari, a not so special tonkotsu-shoyu broth. You are supposed to mix the egg in it, but it didn’t bring much, the soup is barely thicker with it – if I had to come back (but I won’t), I wouldn't order the egg. Sprinkle some pepper for a welcome addition.

Noodles: Not so firm.

Meat: A couple of hard pieces of meat, not bad, a bit smoked, quite different from usually – the fat part was not so interesting though.

Toppings: Some crunchy and salty menma with a classical taste of preserved food. A few moyashi that brought a little bit of freshness.

Overall, it was not bad, but nothing special either – barely better than Todai's ramen in my memory.

More info on ramendb.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Kirari (Kyoto-shi, Fushimi-ku)

つけ麺 きらり
つけめん きらり
Tsukemen Kirari

Norinori tsukemen: 19 / 20

This shop is special – this is obvious already from the outside, with people inconfortably queueing on the elevated rim of the pavement. I had been there a few months ago to try their shioton ramen, and had been so enthusiastic that it was clear to me I had to come back to try their "norinori" tsukemen. A day of plum blossom hunt in Kyoto was the occasion for this.

Broth: A very thick tonkotsu gyokai that sticks perfectly to the noodles – in a somehow similar fashion to Fuunji in Tokyo, although not as sweet (because it’s tonkotsu, and not torigara, as far as I know), and with maybe a more pronounced gyokai taste. The soup is so thick, and sticks so much to the noodles, that I basically finished all of it with my noodles (although I had order the regular, "nami" size, not the big one!) You also get a piece of lemon that you can press into the broth, but I don’t think it’s worth doing so. And I did unfortunately put too much of dashi in my soup wari, so this part was not a great success.

Noodles: Thick noodles with an egg taste, not very salted, very mochi mochi, just perfect – they were kind of hard to slurp though.

Meat: A few cubes of onctuous, delicious meat, with a very melting fat.

Egg: Two halves of a sublime egg: tasty white, whose taste is progressively submerged by the intensity of the gooey yolk.

Toppings: Many sheets of nori and some white onion in the bowl, that both fit perfectly well with the broth. Three very thick, fibrous menma, not so salted – they had a flavor that was definitely familiar, but I could not put a name on it (if you ate there and have any idea, please leave a comment below).

Look at this tsukemen, proud like a peacock making the wheel. And proud it can be: very simply, this tsukemen is perfect. Your personal preferences might make you lean towards other dishes, but like at Takakura Nijo, I cannot think of any flaw. If you are on your way between Osaka and Kyoto on the Keihan line, do yourself a favor and stop here. Icing on the cake: the employees are very friendly.

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Philoramen (for the shio-tonkotsu ramen)

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jikasei (Osaka-fu, Suita-shi)

自家製にぼしらあめん 秀一 (穂波店)
じかせいにぼしらあめん しゅういち
Jikasei niboshi ramen shuuichi 

Seabura ramen: 15 / 20

Wow, this restaurant is far from the station! Fifteen minutes on foot at least, west from Suita station, through a very nondescript area. But finally, here I am, in front of a shop famous for its ‘seabura ramen’ with niboshi and sammma. No hesitation to have, that's what I order.

Broth: An intense, fishy shoyu broth with some hints of niboshi – very good, but unfortunately a bit too fat (hence the name of ‘seabura’ - this refers to pork back fat). Not too salted – that was appreciable.

Noodles: A quite large portion of very decent noodles – I wouldn't have minded if they were a bit more tasty though.

Meat: Two beautiful small slices of braised chashu, with a delicious (but a bit overabundant) melting fat.

Toppings: Good peppery menma – some small, and some large and soft. Some negi and wakame flavored with goma oil – as often, the negi fits well with the pungency of the niboshi taste.

My neighbor had ordered the ‘zenbu nose’ version and I regret I didn’t, as it gets you two other kinds of noodles: some dark sesame noodles, and some made with jako fish (if I understood correctly), which really woke my curiosity. However, the zenbu nose comes with extra chashu, and the two fatty slices you already get in the regular bowl are more than enough IMO. The cook is quite friendly so you might manage to negotiate a ‘zenbu nose’ without the extra chashu (how would you say that, 'hanbu nose'?) In any case, this guy was really dedicated to his work and proud of it – it was a pleasure to talk with him. If you are a fan of ramen oddities made by real ramen craftsman, brave the distance and come here.

More info on ramendb.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mentetsu (Osaka-fu, Toyonaka-shi)

豊中 麺哲
とよなか めんてつ
Toyonaka Mentetsu

Shoyu ramen: 13 / 20

This ramen place close to Toyonaka station is quite popular, and was one of the last in the area I hadn’t tried yet. There is a long counter surrounding a relatively large kitchen space, in which you can see the cooks jumping from one giant pot to another, and preparing the bowls with four hands. I ordered the shoyu ramen – the restaurant’s osusume – but they also serve a shio broth.

Broth: An intense shoyu broth with some Western notes that reminded me of French ‘pot-au-feu’.

Noodles: They had the right elasticity, but a slightly less smooth feel in mouth than usually, because of their square section.

Meat: A (too) large slice of a very average chashu, with a small part of fat.

Toppings: Some short, sweetish menma with a strong taste. Some long negi, and a sheet of nori.

This was a really classical shoyu ramen – which kind of reminded me Strike Ken’s straight bowl in a slightly less perfect version. That’s not really my favorite kind of ramen, but if you fancy this kind of bowl and you are in the area, you may give it a try.

More info on ramendb.

Other review: Friends in Ramen (Umeda shop), Sukimatime