Tuesday, October 26, 2010

naginicai (Nagi Nicai in Shinjuku)



I love Nagi. They have 4 or 5 shops, depending how you do the math, in the greater Tokyo area. Each shop is different, each shop is very cool. I used to visit the Shibuya branch once a week after an English lesson for a bowl and a beer. There was a very cool vibe, almost like a ramen izakaya. At some point, I stopped my Shibuya lesson, and the Nagi visits became less frequent. Ever since, I've been searching for a great ramen shop that can also serve as a hangout. The Cheers of ramen if you will.


The latest is Nagi Nicai. Written in the Roman alphabet, I though nicai was some foreign, maybe Italian word. But no, it's Japanese. 二階 literally means 2nd floor. And this shop is on the 2nd floor. Above another Nagi. One step (floor) at a time.


The concept is a cozy bar with ramen and small dishes that encourage drinking. The menu has a ton of options.


There are a few ramen choices, and the yaki-ramen looked good, but the staff recommended the signature shellfish ramen.


Yeah, that's something different.


Full of clams and mussels, this is, as advertised, great with drinking. If it looks delicious, thats because it is. Extremely.

This ramen is a bit like the steamed mussels occasionally eaten at overpriced Belgian beer bars in Tokyo. Only it's half the price for double the shellfish. And there are noodles.


Speaking of 2nd floors, the shop has a lofted platform with seating for about 6.


Just yell your order over the railing.


The atmosphere lends itself to relaxing and chatting with new friends. Mr. S-Tani, sitting next to me, was introduced to me as another ramen geek. His iPad makes a convincing argument:

He's been blogging his noodles for the last 5 years. Check it out here.


My evening adventure included a first meet with a fan of the site, a temporary resident of Tokyo, whose Japanese at 1 month is better than mine was at 2 years.


We tried a couple of the small dishes. The Beef flank baked in demiglass sauce and the lasagna.


I often recommend the Nagi in Golden Gai as a must for foreign visitors. The vibe is great, and of course the ramen is excellent. Along with Bassanova and Gogyo, these are the shops that can turn a mere mortal into a lifetime ramen lover. I feel like adding naginicai* to that list, with an asterisks.

*It might be an injustice if I only recommend ramen that pushes the envelope, so please check out some more traditional shops in Tokyo.


六代目けいすけ (Rokudaime Keisuke in Ueno)

魁 肉盛りつけ麺 六代目けいすけ


Another lunch lesson and another ramen adventure. My student gave me a range of stations, and Ueno happened to be within that area. And a new Keisuke shop had recently opened in that area. It was a no brainer!


I'm a huge fan of this Keisuke character. Speaking of characters.


If you've followed this site for a while, you know the deal. But if you are a recent visitor (thank you CNN!), I'll update. Keisuke is a classically trained French chef. But his love for Japanese ramen motivated him to open a great little miso shop. After a huge success, the next shop opened. But instead of another branch serving the same great ramen, the soup at Keisuke Nidaime was a completely different shrimp stock. This was followed by a lobster tsukemen shop and a very strong meat and shoyu style. October brings us his 6th.


Flat fettuccine style noodles topped with stir fried pork. The instructional comic recommends eating some as is. It has a Chinese taste, I think they use a bit of ginger in the sweet sauce.


The soup is very vinegary. Very Chinese.


I skipped the mayonnaise step and went straight to the curry powder.


Don't forget to add some owari soup to the strong broth at the end.


One bowl, 5 tastes. I noticed you could get cheese as a topping. Even though I didn't have that, I think it would be in your best interest to go for it.


This shop is very near the exit of the Skyliner, the express train from Narita airport into Tokyo. So, travelers, why not make this your first stop? You could also walk another couple minutes to the excellent Daiki, for a more traditional style bowl.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

JUNK ラハメン (Junk Ramen at Rahmen Yamen)

ラハメン ヤマン


With the discovery of junk style ramen at Junk Garage and Infinitus, I feel like I can't pass up anything even remotely related. I remember seeing a sign for JUNK RAHMEN TSUKEMEN at Rahmen Yahmen a while back. I didn't have any big ramen adventures planned for one lazy Friday afternoon, and since I teach near there, I decided to check it off my list.


You never really know with junk style. The noodles were completely normal.


But the soup was very junk. It tasted like melted butter, probably because of the saucer of melted butter that they dumped in. Other than that, expect tons of garlic.


I can't recommend it, since I felt ill after eating.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

道玄 (Dogen in Takadanobaba)

オーガニック・ラーメン 道玄


With the latest ramen magazine in hand, I headed out. There is a great English bookstore in Takadanobaba that buys and sells used books, and I made my annual book adventure, with about 20 read books in hand. After lugging that much weight around town, I needed to replenish. Of course I would be eating ramen, and what better to replenish lost protein then a soup made with organic beef bones.


Dogen hails from Tottori Prefecture, far out in the West of Japan. I've traveled almost everywhere in this country, but I've never been to Tottori. It's that far out in the middle of nowhere. Someday.


The shoyu is simple and beefy. It tastes almost like a kicked up version of beef broth. It won't win any shoyu ramen competitions, but if you want to try something a little different, check this one out.


A classy bottle of water.


That began life as a bottle of organic shochu alcohol. You can have a glass for 300 yen if you want. I wanted to, but I never drink before work. And I had to work.


Not only alcohol, but there is a whole table of local Tottori goods for sale. I wonder if the spices are good in ramen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

なおじ (Naoji in Shinbashi)

ヒノマル食堂 つけ麺なおじ


It was time for another ramen adventure with a student of mine. This time, however, I had no guidebook or (outdated) GPS system to help us. To the 7-11!


There is always, at every convenience store in Japan, some sort of new ramen publication for sale. The latest trend will be... beef ramen. Seriously, they just pull these trends out of a hat, I think.


Using this great map in the back, we found the one nearest to us. Naoji is on the edge of Shinbashi Station, in a very busy businessman-rich part of town. I think I was the only one not in a black suit in a 50m radius. We both settled in for the special tsukemen with extra memna piled on top.


I'd seen this shop's name before, and only after searching past entries to this site did I realize that Naoji was at one of the recent ramen festivals. At the time, the giant slabs of pork weren't the best. But in the shop they were just right.


Those are my shoes. Did I mention, this shop is standing only? Well it is.


Being 6'4". the one size fits all counters were a bit on the short side. Despite the inconvenience of that, it's a solid tsukemen here. But there has to be a bit more of an appeal.


150 yen highballs. Now we're talking. A cocktail doesn't come much cheaper.


Unless you go for the all you can drink special. 30 minutes for 400 yen*.

*This is actually at a nearby izakaya. Naoji is strictly eat and get out.


Looks like someone had a few too many and high-fived the poor maneki neko a little too hard.

Friday, October 15, 2010

大石家 (Oishiya in Nagano)

中華そば 大石家


Every trip to Nagano ends up being a culinary adventure. On Saturday, we ate local Shinshu cuisine like mountain chicken, apples, and of course a lot of sake. On Sunday, at my friend's wedding, we ate what could well be the best course meal I've had in Japan. On Monday I ate river fish sushi at a roadside stand while riding my motorcycle. After all that, I asked a Nagano native to take me to the best ramen in town.


Oishiya often tops local best of lists, and though the place was empty, it looked like a winner from the start.


A winner indeed.


The soup and noodles here at Oishiya are best described as "easy going". Very simple, very clean. On the other hand, the chashu and menma were some of the most robust and flavorful I've had. As close to perfect shoyu as I've had.


I've been promised that on future trips to Nagano that I'll be introduced to all the top shops. Looking forward to it!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

後楽 (Koraku in Shinbashi)

岡山ラーメン 後楽


In what's becoming a regular event, I set out on a midday ramen adventure with a student of mine. I'm often armed with a few guidebooks, my Tokyo street atlas (filled with notes about where to eat), and whatever new noodle magazine is on the shelves. It's a lot of paper. An analog solution to a modern problem.


Introducing my new GPS system, to be called the Ramen Radar from now on. You see, buried in the menu system is an extensive database of ramen shops. Simply choose to display whatever is close to you, and you'll be eating a great bowl in less than a few hundred meters.


It even has detailed information about each shop in the database. The closest was a Kumamoto style tonkotsu soup. Great!

Did I mention the problems I had with this unit the other day? On the way to a remote ramen shop in West Tokyo, the battery died. Turns out this portable unit isn't too portable. The battery lasts from somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour. Strike one. Lesson learned. Wire it up to the motorcycle in the near future.

This time, we couldn't find the shop. Satellites in space indicated that we were 0m from our goal. Phoning the shop indicated that they closed over 2 years ago. Turns out the ramen database is a little outdated. Strike two. Lesson leaned. Update the Ramen Radar software.


Luckily, my student knew of nearby spot. Okayama style. My first bowl in Japan was actually at an Okayama shop. That bowl cost 190 yen. It wasn't so great. How about this one?


Excellent. Firm, straight noodles similar to nearby Onamachi Style, with a lot less fat. The soup is a simple, sweet shoyu.


If you'd like to take your adventure to the next step, pick up some Okayama travel literature on your way out.