Monday, August 29, 2016

かすい (Kasui in Asahikawa, Hokkaido)



When I travel for work, I don't subject my colleagues to my ramen adventures. I tend to go out late, slurp multiple bowls, and try my best to be low-key. Those I work with, for the most part, take a bit of arm-pulling to even leave the cheap business hotels we stay in. Check in, watch a 500 yen pay-per-view movie, and sleep. I think it is a huge waste, travelling to the far reaches of Japan on weekends, then sitting in a sterile hotel room, but I can also see it as a way to recharge after the week in Tokyo.


Well, I dragged them out in Asahikawa. Not for ramen, but to a friend of a friend's izakaya, located in the heart of Asahikawa's red-light district. Nestled in with 40 other shops, from snack bars to quite restaurants, Tokiyasu was awesome and I'm glad I forced the social evening.


And though I ate my fill of raw Hokkaido salmon, seasoned deep-fried chicken, and corn tempura, I said goodnight to the crew and went for a bowl.


My biggest problem with non-Tokyo Japan, especially somewhere like Asahikawa, is that the ramen shops close early. Eight or nine at night. In a country that views ramen as the perfect post-drinking food, I just don't understand.


But there are always a few. Kasui is open late, three or four in the morning late.


And it ain't bad. Typical Asahikawa style; heavy, porky broth with a lot of heavy, dark soy sauce. Great for preventing a hangover the next day, just make sure you drink a lot of water with that soup.


And though it isn't Hachiya, Kasui gets the job done.


Map of 7 Chome 3 Jōdōri, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaidō 070-0033

北海道旭川市3条通7 ソシアルビル 1F
Hokkaido, Asahikawa-shi, 3-7
Closest station: Asahikawa

Open 11:30-15:00, 17:30-3:00am
Weekends until 4:00am

Thursday, August 25, 2016

レストラン ラ フィネス (Restaurant La FinS in Shimbashi)

レストラン ラ フィネス


What the?!?! Is that ramen?

You bet!

La FinS is an upscale French restaurant specializing in the harmony of both local and exotic ingredients. Chef Keizo Sugimoto has spent his life cooking, studying in both Japan and France before opening La FinS.

So why the ramen? Well, it's offered as an addition to the regular course menu. And just like the cuisine here, you never really know what you'll get.


Here, roast pigeon breast is topped with copious amounts of black truffle. The glass keeps the intense aroma from escaping.


Finished with a cream sauce to make Sugimoto's own distant relative version of Carbonara pasta.


And then, as if this weren't enough, a side of quail and bear meat confit.

The noodles come from a nearby noodle maker, but the dish is pure FinS.


Next is the cold ramen. One of the first things that strikes you is the bowl. La FinS has impeccable dinner wear; handmade plates and dishes from artisinal craftsmen. The bowl for this one, though, is a freshly frozen slice of bamboo trunk. Yes, it was frozen.


Soft-shelled turtle broth with matsutake mushrooms and abalone up top.


Suddenly, Chef Suimoto appeared and dumped sub-freezing sansho pepper into the mix.

Like I said, the ramen can be added in addition to the restaurant's course menu. We talked, Chef and I, about the other ramen in his repertoire. Ise ebi bisque, uni creams, and anything with heavy umami came into the conversation.


Keep this one in mind for those special occasions.

Official site here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

麦苗 (Muginae in Omori)

Homemade Ramen 麦苗


The newest kid on the block is Muginae, just a few minutes from Omori Station. A hot new shop on the super-convenient Yamanote train line? I'm there!


I actually ran into a famous ramen critic by chance the day before, and he clued me into the new shop's opening. Thanks Mr. らおす!


Muginae's m.o. is to follow the awesome trend of using very high quality, very specific ingredients in the bowl. Free range chickens from Yamagata give the broth a solid base, with a tare made from Nagano and Hyogo craft soy sauces.


Noodles are made in house with Japanese flour. Of course, the entire bowl is devoid of any chemical seasoning.


It all adds up to a stellar bowl on Tokyo's south side. Go for the deluxe bowl (the most expensive of the three) and get all the fixings.


An oft overlooked aspect of ramen shops are their bowls. Here, the bowls are handmade by a local artisan. Very cool to have some handmade pottery holding my noodles.


They also have a limited-to-a handful-a-day rice bowl topped with fresh fish from the neighborhood fish monger. I'm loving the dedication to the block.


I just hope the location doesn't hurt their business. The Yamanote line is the most convenient line in Tokyo, but I can't imagine what you could do in Omori.


Well, now you have an excuse to find out!


Map of 6 Chome-11-10 Minamiōi, Shinagawa-ku, Tōkyō-to 140-0013

Tokyo, Shinagawa-ku, Minami Oi 6-11-10
Closest station: Omori

Open 11:30-14:30, 18:00-soup runs out
Sunday 11:30-16:00
Closed Thursdays

Thursday, August 18, 2016

むじゃき (Mujaki in Mito, Ibaraki)

麺屋 むじゃき


Mito is a fairly large, fairly famous city a little over an hour outside of Tokyo.


Most people wouldn't give Mito a second thought, but having been here a few times, I can vouch for it as a nice place. The most known part of Mito, and the place that 99% of Tokyoites come here for is the famous garden, which is full of blooming ume plum trees sometime in February or March. The city even opens a special train station for the express train, so you don't need to set foot anywhere besides Kairakuen Garden.

But like I said, Mito is nice. I spent a few days here many, many years ago, hanging out on the banks of their lake, watching the swans (Mito has a large number if black swans), and relaxing.


Like any town in Japan, Mito has a few famous ramen shops. Mujaki draws a line, so try and get there early.


The mujakisoba, a thick chicken soup, is the one to go with. Check the pink row on the ticket machine.


The also offer any menu item with shrimp flavoring, something I'll try if I ever make it back.


Homemade noodles, of course.

Mujaki was tasty, though the 30 minute walk from the station, in the opposite direction of anything Mito has to offer was a bit far. Sure enough, most patrons drive.


Map of 1 Chome-5-31 Higashidai, Mito-shi, Ibaraki-ken 310-0818

Ibaraki-ken, Mito-shi, Higashidai 1-5-31
Closest station: Mito

Open 11:30-14:30. 18:00-21:00
Closed Wednesdays

Monday, August 15, 2016

MARVEL x Ippudo Event

Marvel x Ippudo


Are you Team Captain?


Or Team Stark?


Let the battle begin.

I was lucky enough to make it to the limited Marvel x Ippudo collaboration event with the relase of Captain America: Civil War. What does a six item, limited menu look like? How do you represent each side and all of their allies at a ramen shop?


First, go download the Marvel version of Tsum Tsum. Do they have this smartphone game overseas? Board any crowded train in Japan, look over your neighbor's shoulder, and I give it a fifty fifty chance they are playing this game. (Editor's note, I wrote this before Pokemon Go was a thing).

I know this is sounding like a sponsored post, but it isn't. I wish this site was sponsored by Disney.


Let the feast begin!


A refreshing blue beverage (Captain) and some spicy fried noodles (Stark). I'm not a fan of sweet drinks, so the clear victor was Team Stark with their tasty snack. On to the ramen!


Each ingredient in the bowl is meant to parallel a character in the movie. Breaking it down:
  • Pepper studded noodles, a.k.a. Ant-麺.
  • A fried chicken wing, from Falcon.
  • A Bucky bomb eggplant.
  • Bacon espuma. I was told this is a missile bubble. Not sure.
  • Scarlet Witch red magic tomato.
  • And of course the A for America.
This bowl was awesome. A very light chintan soup, with very firm, peppery noodles. The bacon espuma should make its way into more light bowls of ramen. Who doesn't love bacon!


Over at Team Iron, a.k.a. Team Paitain:

  • Black Widow noodles, made with carrots for a red color.
  • Spiderman webbing, which was actually cotton candy.
  • Tony's arc reactor egg.
  • A mix of Vision veggies.
  • Black Panther's balsamic vinegar sauce.
  • War Machine's meatball.
I wasn't feeling this one at all! Actually, and I told this to the staff, the two corn chips made the whole bowl smell like, well, corn chips. I removed them and proceeded, but this bowl was just crazy. Definitely a win for Team Captain.


After the bowls, a snack and desert.


The parma ham sushi bites were meant to be little Tsum Tsums (is that even a word) from the game. Tasty!

Desert was a Captain America pudding.


Tickets for this event were gone within four hours of it being announced on their Facebook page. You can check it out here so you never miss another event!


Thursday, August 11, 2016

若葉 (Wakaba in Tsukiji)



I'll make a long story short.


There was a ramen shop that I really wanted to check out in the inner market of Tsukuji fish market.


But the entire fish market was randomly closed that day.


Fortunately, the shops along the outer market are open for business, and business is booming. Wakaba has been around for over 60 years, and their no-nonsense bowl is a hit with both local fishermen and not-so-local tourists. On this day, when the fishermen were off, the line was about 10 deep with overseas customers.


Ramen, ramen with wonton, ramen with extra pork. It's a simple menu for a simple bowl.


Not the kind of ramen I go for, but the atmosphere of standing and slurping in the crowded market is fun, especially if you are on vacation. I'm curious how this will all feel in a few in a few short months, when the market moves further from the city center.



Official site here.

Map of 4 Chome-9-11 Tsukiji, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0045

Tokyo, Chuo-ku, Tsukiji 4-9-11
Closest station: Tsukiji

Open 5:00am-2:00pm
Closed Sundays