Wednesday, April 18, 2012

IKEMEN in Los Angeles

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I was admittedly excited when I heard about "Sean" Nakamura's latest Los Angeles experiment. I say experiment, because this guy churns out ramen concepts faster than a kaedama of barikata noodles get's cooked. There is, of course, the main shop in Ebina, some collaborations with hip cafes closer to central Tokyo, some sort of $100 a person fine-dining-ramen-themed spot called essence (closed?), a ramen-on-wheels food truck (closed?) . . . and that's just in Japan. Some time ago, the ramen master started doing business in California, and the gastronomical experiment Ramen California (closed?) was opened. The latest (not yet closed) foray is a tsukemen place right in the middle of Hollywood.

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Sorry, it's not tsukemen, it's dip ramen. Because you dip it.

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In a trend that seems to have hit every successful ramen shop in America, the menu offers half a dozen or so appetizers. While the standard side dish to Japanese ramen has forever been gyoza in Japan, expect American ramen to be flanked by pork buns, takoyaki, and some fried chicken.

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I asked about the most popular tsukemen, sorry, dip ramen on the menu, and the mayu-laced zebra narrowly beat out the tomato-topped Johnny Dip.

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Ennui.

Why, oh why did the master of subtle flavors decide on tsukemen. Tsukemen is not just noodles separate from the soup. At least it shouldn't be. All the best tsukemen shops in Japan, the ones I drag friends to, the ones with hour long waits, the soup is an intense shock to the system. Insanely thick, reeking of flavors that are sitting on the fence between "just right" and "too much". But we were talking about IKEMEN, and I digress.

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Don't get me wrong, there are subtle wafu flavors, accents of niboshi and umami meats; flavors that are well suited to a refined bowl of ramen. I think Nakamura's famed yuzu citrus accented shio ramen would have found a nice home in Los Angeles. But then again, the average person might just compare it to chicken soup and move on. Judging by the general reception that IKEMEN has received in the past few months, their formula is working well.

And if a respected food lover came to me and said, "IKEMEN is in the top three of Los Angeles," I wouldn't argue, it probably is. I'm just glad to live in Tokyo.

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