Tuesday, December 31, 2013

次郎長 (Jirocho at the Sapporo Airport)



I had a day in Hokkaido. Rephrase that one; I had 12 hours in Hokkaido. Such is the nature of my weekend work. And such nature had me up north with exactly one hour of free time. One hour at the airport.


Luckily, Sapporo's New Chitose airport has enough to keep a foodie busy for hours. Hours of above-average chain shops representing all the famous Hokkaido cuisines. There is soup curry, crab, and about eight places that sell milk flavored ice cream, a sweet synonymous with the area. There is also a ramen stadium, bringing nine ramen shops into one convenient location.


I wanted miso, and Jirocho serves miso.


Famished as I was, the first few bites were great. As time went on, though, boredom set in.


I don't like to consider myself a miso elitist, but I'm consistently underwhelmed with the stuff I've had in Hokkaido. I'm looking for a Kururi impact, followed by the creamy aftertaste of Oyaji. The decadent broth of something like 3SO, with a solid all-round taste like Hanamichi.

Of course, in my seven years in Japan, I've only spent one night in Sapporo, so I'm still hopeful for the future.


Open from something like 10am to 10pm

Sunday, December 29, 2013

無頼庵 (Buraian in Kyodo)



I am NOT a Jirorian. A Jirorian cares not for the stink of garlic that seeps from his pores. A Jirorian can pinpoint the minor differences between the Jiro branch in Nishi-Shinjuku and the Jiro branch in Kabukuicho, a five minute walk away. A Jirorian thinks that bean sprouts count as a healthy topping.


And when a new Jiro-style shop opens, I don't really care.

But when a Jiro-style shop called Buraian opens, I take note. Because that is my name! I'm Brian!


In typical Jiro-style fashion, a single shred of cabbage was the only spec of health in this bowl. In typical fashion, I felt like crap after eating it. In typical fashion, the soup is rich and porky and delicious.


Then I was hit was some of the best news of 2013. I asked the master what 無頼庵 means. 無頼 - burai - means villainy, non-trust. 庵- an - means hermitage. Put them together, and buraian means desperado. A bad-ass dude, living day to day by his own rules.

When I first came to Japan, some Japanese friends wrote my name as 武雷安, a nonsense grouping of Chinese characters for samurai, thunder, and cheap.

I'll take desperado any day.


Tokyo, Setagaya-ku, Kyodo 2-14-13
Closest station: Kyodo

Open 11:30-15:00, 18:00-22:00

Friday, December 27, 2013

潮 (Ushio in Ogawamachi)


The annual new shop awards have been handed out, and Ushio took top marks in the tori paitain category. Creamy chicken ramen is often the base for some unique bowls, and Ushio goes a little overboard with their toppings.


Bacon-wrapped asparagus, poached egg, and a dollop of garlic butter.


Yeah, this one is a winner. I'm shocked, though, that the number one spot wasn't given to Kagari in Ginza. While this bowl at Ushio is fantastic, the novelty of those toppings would get real old, real fast.


Tokyo, Chiyoda-ku, Kandaawajicho 2-4-4

Open 7:00-19:00
Closed Mondays

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

長尾中華そば (Nagao in Aomori)

長尾中華そば 西バイパス本店


8:00am - Haneda Airport.
9:30am - Aomori Airport.
10:00am - Taxi to the performance hall.
4:00pm - Work is done, with exactly two hours of free time until the train to the next city.

Perfect timing to grab the most famous bowl in Aomori Prefecture.


I wasn't the first ramen nut to come to Nagao.


And some locals come here almost every week! There are bowls labeled with people's names all over the shop. If you sign up for a members card and get 1000 points, you get you own bowl. That's about 150 bowls. Dedication.


But I was just in town for a minute, with just enough time for one.

From the 裏メニュー, the secret menu. Sure, you can go with a standard item, like the light asari ramen, or even the heavier kotteri, bu if you ask for the ura-menu, you'll get the max amount of niboshi possible.

Nagao made their name with heavy niboshi flavors, a trend that is all the rage in Tokyo these days.




The idea of dried sardines as the main flavor in a bowl of ramen might sound off-putting to some foodies. Sardines, of course, are one of the most fishy smelling flavors of the sea. But by drying them, and boiling them for just the right amount of time, you get a smoky richness that is unparalleled in the food world.

And due to strict laws about importing dried fish from Japan to America, you aren't likely to find a bowl like this anytime soon. As was explained to me, dried fish needs to have all the guts removed to make it into the States, an impossibility for niboshi. Take advantage if you are in Japan. And if you can't make it up to Aomori, Nagi in Shinjuku does a good one.


Official Site Here


青森県青森市三好2-3-5 ガーラタウン内
Aomori-ken, Aomori-shi, Miyoshi 2-3-5
Closest station: Shin-Aomori

Open 7:00-22:00
Friday 11:00-22:00

Monday, December 23, 2013

あらとん (Araton in Shinjuku)

あら焚き豚骨 あらとん 新宿御苑店


I don't make it up to Hokkaido very often, so when a popular shop Sapporo shop opens up a few minutes from my front door, I get excited. This one instantly went on the list in the back of my daily planner. See anything you have an opinion about?


一番でっせ。The best, you say?


I have to disagree.


I wasn't feeling this one. Araton is a shoyu ramen, not the miso that you would expect. They did, however, manage to impart some of the warming thickness that makes miso ramen such a wonderful thing up in the north.

The bowl had a funky aftertaste, a kind of onion overload, that made this a one-off for me.


Official Site Here


東京都新宿区新宿1-4-12 シティ御苑A館1F
Tokyo, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 1-3-12
Closest station: Shinjukugyoenmae

Open 11:00-22:30
Weekends 11:00-18:00

Saturday, December 21, 2013

一風堂の蛸限定 (Limited Octopus Ramen at Ippudo)



A 1-day / 1-shop limited bowl at Ippudo on my day off?  Solid.

限定 © Tokyo Food File

This bowl is the second in an ongoing seasonal gentei series. Winter is a wonderful time for seafood in Japan, with fish taking on extra fat for the colder months. Subtle fish flavors can often be used in ramen, but I suppose Kawahara-san, the infamous guy behind the Ippudo empire, was looking for something with a bit more of a punch; octopus.


The soup; a light dashi made with copious amounts of dried octopus.
The toppings; octopus wontons and an octopus meatball.
The staff t-shirts; octopus themed.


Served in a hotpot, everything about this this bowl was simple and fragrant. Definitely falls in the gentei category, not something I would want to eat on a regular basis, but pretty much the perfect bowl on the coldest day of the year so far (chance of snow in Tokyo).


Dump in the side of octopus rice for more octopus goodness.


This event was packed! Perhaps it was due in part to Kawahara-san himself being there (check my facebook page for a photo). A smattering of B-list celebs were on hand, as well as ramen fans from all over the Kanto area.


Ippudo has quite a few branches in Tokyo, around Japan, and all over the world. Though they aren't the best in their field, they are consistently good, and you can pretty much be sure of a good bowl anytime you want.

Official Site Here


東京都中央区銀座4-10-3 セントラルビル1F
Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-10-3
Closest station: Higashi-Ginza

Open 11:00-2:00am
Friday and Saturday until 3:00am
Holidays until 1:00am

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

やぐら亭のほたる (Habanero+ Ramen at Yaguratei)



I went to Yaguratei, which happens to be only a few minutes from my front door, a while back. Go ahead and read my positive review of that experience, then order what everyone else in the shop was eating; the normal ramen.


But when I mentioned to some fellow ramen nuts that I went, they were quick to ask if I ate the whole bowl. The whole bowl? Of course!


No, the whole bowl if their famous ほたるラーメン. Yes, it is on fire in the above photo. More about that in a sec.


And so now that I have been back, I can say, "No. No I didn't."


The tencho looks like the kind of dude who would secretly relish in what was served.

You see, the hotaru ramen, or should I call it the firefly ramen, is dubbed the spiciest ramen in Tokyo.


The fire is courtesy of the vodka soaked butter (or is that butter soaked vodka). Coupled with a light miso base and raw, diced habanero peppers, this bowl is wonderful . . . to smell. The sweetness of the peppers, the slight mustiness of the miso, the butteriness of the, um, butter. But at the first sip, your mouth is engulfed by the heat.

I would have liked it if the chef removed the seeds, leaving only the orange flesh of one of the world's hottest peppers. Nope, seeds and all.


And this was just level 1. Five grams of habanero pepper. Feel free to kick it up to level 10 if you have something to prove. I searched on the internet, and one pepper is about five grams. If you can eat 10 habanero peppers, please let me buy you a drink.

I left the bowl as you see it, with just a couple sips and a couple bites taken. It hurt the next morning. My buddy ate it all. I heard about it the next day . . . from his girlfriend!