Sunday, July 29, 2012

33 in Jimbocho



Showed up a few minutes before opening, and here is what I saw:


スープが売り切れました - The soup has run out. That was 33's way of saying they weren't open yet. I started thinking of a Plan B when the staff opened the door and announced that everything was in order. Your ramen better make up for the undue stress that you caused!


Stress? What stress?

33 is a fantastic blend of all things chicken. The soup is a light chicken-bone shio, simple and aromatic. But then 33 goes crazy! There is the obligatory egg, a chicken meatball, pork chashu, chicken chashu, and some greens.


I've always said that shio ramen needs excellent toppings to stand out, and 33 doesn't disappoint on that.


The master, like many others in his field, visited New York and now plan on opening a shop there. Call it the Ippudo Effect. How could you not see the nightclub-like scene and not dream of someday running one of those.


Good luck. The Ippudo Effect has influenced dozens of quality chefs here in Tokyo. Hollywood only claimed one. To the share of them, though, New York is the only place in America worthy of their gifts. And with Ichiro taking up with the Yankees, the dreams are only going to get stronger.


Tokyo, Chioda-ku, Kanda-Jimbocho 1-44
Closest station: Jimbocho

Open 11:00-14:30, 17:00-24:00
Weekends until 21:00

Thursday, July 26, 2012

値段のないラーメン屋 (No Cost Ramen in Shiodome)



How much would you pay for a bowl of ramen?


That is the concept here at this limited popup in Shiodome.


Part of the Shiohaku festival. If you head down to the Nihon TV building you can see what I am talking about.


Fun . . .


. . . and excitement. Don't get distracted by Evangelion or bikini models (not pictured), there is free ramen to be had.


Wait in line, I assume. I attended a press day, so the wait was minimal. I would expect a massive line during the summer months.


Get your bowl.


Slurp away! The shop was very chic; all red and black. The bowl was equally simple. No toppings really, just a peppering of sliced green onion to go with the shoyu ramen.


By the way, you are being streamed on the internet.


Finally, write what you would pay for this bowl. Completely hypothetical. The 777 is a bit high, but I wanted to send some lucky vibes to whatever it is they are trying to do here.

The big LED signage out front (all zeros on this, the negative first day of opening) will reflect the average, as well as how many people tried it. For an update, check it out:

Isn't technology cool! Honestly, I would pay maybe 400 yen for this bowl. Without any special toppings, it isn't worth a lot.

I'd like to hear what others think of this. Post your thoughts here or over at the facebook page!


From 10:30-17:00 until August 7th, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Minca Ramen Factory in New York (Guest post!)

Mina Ramen Factory

Thank you Michael Vito for this guest post. Michael writes and shoots over at Like a Fish in Water, a site all about urban environments and their relationships with government and the private sector. In Tokyo (and New York) the popular urban ramen shop is a wonderful thing, bringing thousands of people a great bowl. Thanks for the guest post!

Few would confuse this mostly residential block of 5th Street in New York’s East Village with any part of Osaka or Tokyo. Yet whenever I feel nostalgic for the little comforts and pleasures of Japan, I seem to end up back here at Minca Ramen Factory. The unassuming storefront is easy to miss for first time visitors, though when the wind blows right the telltale stench of long simmered pork bones will lead the way.

minca ramen

In 2004, Minca was born out of Chugoku transplant Shigeto Kamada’s long running, unrequited craving for authentic ramen in New York. Unlike Ippudo, Totto, Minca’s sister shop Kambi and a handful of other shops that have popped up in the intervening years, Minca eschews the sleek design and predictable Asian flourishes common of this market segment. The interior is cramped and ever so slightly grimy, with exposed brick walls and a few touches of chiguhagu (mismatched) decoration that would make Martha Stewart cringe. Despite this, or maybe it’s because of this, the atmosphere never comes off as anything other than causal, comfortable and friendly, with warm smiles from behind the bar looking out over the crowd of happy slurpers.

minca ramen

Kamada-san’s flagship bowl is a blended tonkotsu and torigara stock, flavored withshoyu tare and purée of roasted garlic. When I first found Minca several years ago, they used thin, white and wire-hard Hakata-style noodles. In the last year or so there was a switch over to something a little thicker and more yellow (my hunch is higher kansui content), but still plenty toothy and springy. The soup is full-bodied, but not quite so viscous and hefty as an unadulterated tonkotsu, so I think the newer noodle suits it well. Thick, buttery slabs of chashu, negi, kikurage, menma, a seasoned hard-boiled egg and sheet of nori come standard.

minca gyoza

Minca also serves up crispy, juicy ebi gyoza.

minca ramen

The bar seating offers a great view into the preparation area. As I had arrived just after opening, I caught large sheets of steeping kombu being rescued from the day’s first batch of dashi.

minca ramen

Life is better with large, steaming vats of simmered pork and chicken bones.

minca ramen

At just after opening, and with temperatures already approaching the realm of 90-100°F and humid, there wasn’t much of a crowd at Minca on this day. In the evenings and come cooler weather, you’ll be looking at a typical ramenya wait of 10-30 minutes, depending on queue length. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Official Site Here

View Larger Map

536 East Fifth Street
New York, NY, 10009

Open everyday 12:00-23:30

Monday, July 16, 2012

九月堂 (Kugatsudo in Shibuya)

らーめんと甘味処 九月堂


The recent search for charming little ramen shops took me to the upscale shopping district north of Shibuya station. Within a minute of this ramen shop, you will find a Ships, a Beams, a G Star Raw, and a Comme de concept shop. I don't expect the average ramen slurper to know what those are (except the guys at Ken Ken in SF), but patterned shirts with bow ties sums it up fairly well.


What I am getting at is that this is not your typical ramen neighborhood. It is more of a craft beer bar followed by fancy crepes. It takes a special kind of ramen to work here.


Is the white leather couch too much? Probably. Anyways, ramen comes kotteri or asari. Heavy or light.


The light was quite nice. Cafe style in every way, the light fish broth was accented by grated yuzu citrus. A standard recipe for success.

Too bad I got the kotteri. It was a big miss. Salty and pungent, I could only finish about half. There were some temperature issues as well, the soup and some toppings felt cold. Maybe it was a timing mistake with the ordering of both styles. Regardless, do not order the kotteri!


Nice place to relax though. And thanks to the aforementioned bad ramen, I saved room for desert.


Yuzu sorbet in a yuzu jelly. Fantastic. There are also some enormous parfaits that make this a proper date spot for someone looking to impress a lovely lady with something sweet . . . or a cool dude with some hot noodles (asari!)



Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Jinnan 1-15-22
Closest station: Shibuya

Open 11:30-22:00
Weekends 12:00-21:00
Closed Mondays

Friday, July 13, 2012

一福 (Ichifuku in Hatsudai - New Location)

らぁめん 一福


I had been here before, back when the shop was hidden down a maze of back streets. There were both stairs and a pedestrian tunnel involved in getting to this bowl. This may be minutes from Shinjuku and its modern towers, but some of these back roads look like they belong in the 40s. Crazy, it always felt like an adventure into the past.


The new shop is a shiny place that is no problem to get to. Still very much a local shop, visited by locals. I will miss the old hard-to-find spot though. There was something . . . special about it.


The irorimen, iron fireplace ramen, is what to get. A miso ramen in a technical sense, this bowl includes medicinal Japanese sake, crunchy shark cartilage, and other secret ingredients meant to promote health in a way that only medicinal foods can.


The magic thing about this bowl is how the flavor develops. The first sip is borderline boring, but it slowly gets creamier and more flavorful. By the end, you'll have no problem draining the bowl.


Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Honmachi 2-17-14
Closest station: Hatsudai

Open 11:30-14:00, 18:00-21:30
Sunday 11:30-15:00
Closed Mondays

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

星火 (Seika in Jiyugaoka)



I have been on an adventure lately to find some オシャレ ramen shops. Oshare (お洒落 for you kanji learners out there) means stylish, and it is the go-to adjective for restaurants with nice interiors. In most cases, the interior matches the cuisine, and an oshare ramen shop will go the extra bit to make their food . . . pretty.


Sure enough, in upscale Jiyugaoka, there are plenty of shops that look the part. Seika is actually more of an izakaya, serving all sorts of bites to go with their long list of Japanese alcohol. Ramen was one of a dozen lunch items.


The summer-only tsukemen had a creamy-slash-spicy tantan thing going on. What's that floating in the soup?


A ponzu ice cube keeps the soup cool. It should be worth noting that the ingredients used at Seika were top notch.


The shio ramen is delightfully complex. Three quail eggs, as opposed to one giant one from a chicken, is something I would like to see more of in ramen. Or how about some quail eggs and a chicken egg. Duck eggs, too. Most ramen adventurers are fans of eggs.

The lunch set included some fried lotus, a bit of a pickle salad, and a red riceball. Classy.


But, I'm sad to say, the noodles were strictly average. With the impression of the shop, and all the great ingredients and care taken, I would really expect some high quality noodles.


Another bad point for the ramen, yet a good point for the shop, was that the other lunch choices looked amazing. Another customer ordered the rice bowl; raw salmon and scallops topped with a healthy pile of salmon roe. A veritable Hokkaido-in-a-bowl, I left envious of their choice.


To get there, walk past the doggy hair salon, turn at the vintage clothing shop with only three shirts for sale, and stop just before the house with six Ferraris. Oshare!


Tokyo, Meguro-ku, Jiyugaoka 1-21-4
Closest station: Jiyugaoka

Open 11:30-14:00, 18:00-24:00

Saturday, July 7, 2012

一本氣 (Ippongi in Koiwa)

極濃麺家初代 一本氣


Is it Yokohama style, or is it Hakata style?


It's both! Or it's neither! I don't know the classification, but it is definitely good eating on the far east side of Tokyo.


It's best said by the master himself, "Ippongi taste, Hakata style."


Ippongi has received a few awards in the past, and if it wasn't all the way out in Koiwa, I would have gone there sooner. In reality, it is less than 20 minutes from Tokyo station. It just feels far.


Ie-kei - Yokohama style - has a lot of misses in Japan. A standard feature of this style is choice. You can choose the thickness of the soup, how much oil is added, and the firmness of the noodles. I think this is a trick. By offering so much choice, a bad bowl of ramen can be blamed on the customer, not the shop.

Well, Ippongi doesn't offer a choice. It just comes delicious. The pork flavor is strong, with little aftertaste.


I was a little sad that they didn't have any of their custom nori seaweed sheets. Some shops imprint white text onto the dark green sheets. Some shops burn a little symbol on their egg. Others have crazy one-of-a-kind bowls. I dig that sort of thing.


Tokyo, Edogawa-ku, Nishi-Koiwa 1-29-6
Closest station: Koiwa

Open 11:30-23:45