Thursday, April 28, 2016

l'Asse, Meguro (レストラン・ラッセ)

I approach this review in a quiet residential neighborhood with some trepidation.

What's on tap for lunch today?
A HUMMER? Are you sure? What's it like?
Oh, it's LIKE NOTHING ELSE. Well, I can get behind that.

Wait, what the heck IS this place?
It is indeed, truly, verily, a 'House of Tail'.

Without further preamble,
Let's tap this Asse.
As befits a top-level Italian restaurant, there are gratuitous Italian touches everywhere. Like the plates of Murano glass that grace every place setting. Interestingly, this eschews the more formal 'stars and flowers' patterns for something that I believe translates into English as 'cloaca'.

Squeezing out into this starter plate is a mound of...well, we have this joke in my house about primitive art - "Oh, that's nice. When did your kid make it?" So it looks like a mound of something my 1-year old daughter made. (Hi Mrs. P! If you're old enough to be reading this someday, please tell daddy, ok?)

Of course it's really some middling-quality uni, and a big asparagus stalk, and a cooked mussel, in a sauce based on egg yolk. I don't make this stuff up.
I don't pile this stuff up either, a pile of flowers to cover...something stinky beneath? It's snapper carpaccio, and the only stinky-ish thing is the oddly-strongly tasting seri, a Japanese vegetable here served raw. All of this stuff is way too much for snapper carpaccio, and I didn't even remember the sauce.

Bottarga, which is of course the salted and dried feces of grey mullet, is always a welcome addition to a meal. In this case it's topping pasta, with mushrooms and tiny fish mixed in. Despite the luxury ingredient-ing, this felt throwaway. I can't help but be unimpressed by commercially produced pasta in a lunch at this purported level, although it may be the done thing.
This is the chef's specialty, and the source of much mirth at table. We had a little bet going, an over-under on exactly how many raviolos would be included in the special 4-cheese ravioli dish. I lost heavily, being inclined to 4 but lowering my actual bet to 3.

In fairness it was delicious, with the overriding facet being the cream-cheesiness of the sauce. Maybe you could make this at home with melted cream cheese?

I hear that the chef is famous not only for the flavor of these, but also for the round, supple curves that resemble nothing so much as the body part that gives his restaurant its name. I love how Japanese chefs weave their concept all through the dining experience.
Having a choice of fish or meat we chose meat, which I don't think was a surplus chargeable item. It was also delicious despite being a bit crap looking. The beef was Japanese, and it reminded me how long it's been since I had wagyu. The mushroom sauce, nice, the bamboo shoot, seasonal, and the pickled daikon, there for sour counterpoint.
Mmmmmmm, sour counterpoint. 

With that, we were on to dessert. There was a 'line of bites' board and then one larger item. Let's inspect.
Little creme brulee bites.
Vanilla mousse cones.
Chocolates. Looks like something my son made on a bad day.
Candied orange peel. Scraping the bottom of the barrel here, interesting-content-wise.
By this time it should go without saying that these mini-profiteroles were positively oozing chocolate cream.
This was the main dessert - supreme'd orange with champagne jelly and...prunes. Prunes! Of course! Stay regular!
Finishing strong and on-message, this hole is the last thing you'll see before leaving the restaurant.

You'll remember it later too.

But really, if you want a fancy lunch in this neighborhood, just go to Requinquer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Onibus Coffee, Nakameguro

Let me just start by saying "Cheese and Rice, some people are serious about this stuff. Eric has far more to say than I ever could."

I mean, I was just wandering around after ramen and saw a coffee place and had a quick iced coffee and chat with the staff. What a cool place, all recently-outfitted.

'Onibus' is a cool name too. Is it 'omnibus' mispelled, or is it a hip thing about the 'demon bus', like 'get on the bus, because Beelzebub's roasting coffee with his beard clippingz!"? The possibilities for pleasurable misunderstanding are multifaceted.

Everything about this place is cool.

Except the roaster, which is hot. They had some third-wave beans just hitting second crack as we ordered. It's Tokyo, so of course they have to roast their own beans. I learned from the link above that this is the main rosticcieria for the other 3 stores under the same owner (is it a chain? Is it still hip?), and that's even more Tokyo. It's tiny, it's hip, but it's the hub location for 3 tinier, hippier places.

Oh, so it means 'public bus' in Portugese. F-n Portugese. Because the owner discovered coffee in Australia. Of course. Because Tokyo. Because coffee. Because oni. Because life.

I drank an iced coffee too, whatever. 

Deguchiya, Nakameguro (出口屋)

I walked by this place 4 times total (because it took me two days to hit the Yakumoz due to the fact that they're CLOSED ON TUESDAYS) and every time thought it looked pretty sweet. They've been in business something like 80 years and have an attached bar (Bar Exit, geddit?). They must be doing something right.

The something right that they're doing includes these festive paper bon-bons. These are harder to make at home than you'd think, as someone will attest. She'd be jealous of these.

Whereas I'D be jealous of the fridge. Lots of nice saki in here, names you know mixed with names you don't - in a way that makes you think the names you don't are probably pretty good. Also bears mentioning that they have a good selection of American micro beer. If you live in Tokyo permanently and can't get Ballast Point at your local Trader Joe's, this is your place.

This is also your place for a very full-size display should we translate this? Morning Sun Cross? Anyhoo, Juji Asahi is a cool brewer that's known for strong flavors and aged bottles. You never see this much from one brewer in one place, and it's even more remarkable when I tell you that those shelves that look like multiple facings of the same bottle are usually different vintages of the same bottle. I think the oldest was a BY19, so 9-year old saki right there. Lots of options in the BY24-26 range, including the one I bought.

These posts always lead up to a punchline, right? In this case it's tasting counter. If you're not careful and ask for the Juuji Asahi or Gunma Izumi tastings (the two on the right), they'll just take the bottles off the counter and pour for you. That stuff's heavy enough that you really want it warm to appreciate it. In fact they asked if I wanted it warmer.

There were two other options chilled, including the new-to-me Tamagawa 'stork' label, for the women, young people, and light drinkers.

But the good lord knows that ain't me when I'm in Japan. 

BTW, I told Woodsy that I stopped off in a cool liquor store in Nakame for a drink and he said "Oh, Deguchiya?" The explorations continue apace and in parallel.

Yakumo ramen, Ikejiri (支那そば 八雲)



 OK, that's out of the way. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find a video of a sweet potato truck playing the traditional song, without a white guy on the front babbling for 2 minutes about he's exposing the soul of Japan. Even that video kinda sucks, so you knead to know what joke I'm making. And even then.

Love was in the air, with late-blooming pink sakooras falling in the water along the Meguro right where it curves across Mountainhand Road, just south of the Big Bridge of Pond-Butt.

I maintain that Japanese place and family names are positively poetic. I once showed a Chinese friend, and couldn't get over the idea that someone was named 'duck river'. MOVING ON.

Yakumo is totally famous. It was Tabelog's 'Tokyo Best Ramen' two years running. That's an interesting but not overly important stat. If it was #1 on ramendb I'd be really impressed (it's #43 today. Just for the record, the place across the street, that you can see while you're waiting, is #13.) because that's where the cool kids post all their reviews. The cool kids know that the second floor of this building is where the noodles lurk. 
There's a lot of lurking going on, because even at 1 PM on a Wednesday (REMEMBER THEY'RE CLOSED ON TUESDAYS, DUMBASS) there are people waiting. Birdz and I got on the joint at an auspicious time, we were only the 4th and 5th people waiting outside; by the time we got to move to the 10 seats inside the restaurant and wait some more, there were people going down the stairs and out of sight.
Then we waited at the counter. Which gave us a chance to check out some of the ingredients of the forthcoming bowls. Everything here has a unique spin, and this pork is no exception. For starters, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks like chicken breast squeezed into brick form. (I forgive you.) It's coated with a Chinese-y tasting rub, and they cut it pretty thick, by hand, to order.

One of the real differentiators here is the wontons. For a start, they exist, and ramen places that do wontons aren't that common unless they're some kinda old-style Chinese crap. For a finish, they come in shrimp and pork, and the pork ones are in-frickin-credible. Worth the trip, I'd say. I liked the shrimp a lot and all, but I would ignore the advice of every other blogger that's ever visited this place and just get the pork wontons, 6 of them, in your soup.

Said bloggers also make a big deal about how cool it is to order off-menu to get your 'mixed' wontons, half and half, but that's the double-size button at the top of the ticket machine, so I think the Yakumos got wise to that game.

They're pretty wise, honestly.  That's why I forewent the other clever advice of ordering 'mixed' soup. They have a 'white' soup (pictured) and a 'black' soup, but black seems to be just "It includes a ladle of soy sauce".
There's nothing wrong here. (Aside from the mere presence of menma, which I'll just put aside.) Again, this is the 'shiro' soup; there's plenty of salt even without the shoyu, don't worry yourself, so why not just taste their carefully-constructed broth? Again, the clever bloggers who say you've gotta order off-menu and get 'mix'...they're almost imperceptibly too clever for me.

Now that I think about it, this is awfully Chinese in aspect. The wontons and the Chinese-spiced pork (again, not chicken)... You know, the pork (not chicken) was maybe the weakest thing in the bowl (again, pretend the menma don't exist). Can you just get a huge bowl of wontons? Pork wontons?

That's almost worth going back to find out. ALMOST.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Yaro Ramen, Naka Meguro (野郎ラーメン)

Yaro there! Sometimes you need to embrace the unexpected and glory in the thrill of the idiotic!

Especially when you walk 35 minutes to a shop that's CLOSED ON TUESDAYS.

So you end up eating Jiro-style ramen, although I wonder if Mr. Yaro gets mad when people say that. Then again, he's rocking the yellow theme, so maybe he's an officially licensed Jiro spinoff, and he has 21 shops, so he's probably not too fussed regardless of what you think.The original shop is in Kanda, so I don't know how I could have avoided it, except that I DON"T EAT JIRO RAMEN, but the 'main original shop' is in Shibuya, so maybe the Kanda one isn't so noticeable.

The only thing that makes him mad is when you just walk by his shops, looking downtrodden.

Or sit at the counter, looking similarly.

This place was pretty mellow and sad, in a way that the garish color scheme and loud, pounding cheerful music did nothing to de-emphasize.

Also, I believe they adhere to the 'dirtier the better' mantra of all Jiros.  
I was kinda downtrodden to see that they have an individualized mantra of "the more prepackaged the noodles, the better", but that's only because I've been going to nothing but killer shops this week. When you eat normal, you should expect normal. Easy is as easy does it. Don't let the sound of your own bowls drive you crazy.

We may lose, and we may win.

But we will damn sure never be here again.

Not to say there was anything wrong with this. I like a good jiro once in a while. The pork is so thick it's like eating three porkchops. With a lot of fat.

Soft, delicious porkchops. Awfully good porkchops.

Under them is the other focal point, the mountain of bean sprouts. Moyashiyama, they call it. 
This moyashiyama conceals a secret. This is a weird bowl of ramen. It doesn't actually include noodles! You think there should be noodles under the bean sprouts, but there are more bean sprouts for the noodles to rest on. And then more bean sprouts, and so forth. It's bean sprouts all the way down.

Now that I got that joke out of the way, let me point out that they give you a choice between wok-frying or the more normal boiling for your cabbage and sprouts, and I'm here to tell ya the wok frying adds a nice little char to the flavor, whereas on the few times I've had stuff like this before I always thought the boiled veg was a total throwaway.
The noodles are fine, but with the heavy soup and the mountain of meat and veg, you're so tired that you can't think about the noodles, and you just eat them mechanically. 

I was a happy robot and all, but that's enough of this style of ramen for another 5 years. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Kimihan ramen, Gotanda (江戸前煮干中華そば きみはん 五反田店)

Good, heavens, this is my first-ever post in Gotanda. I believe this was the second or third time I've ever been here, and the first one or two were during weekend daylight hours for a funeral. I feel like it required two trips but it's been many years and things are hazy.

It's hazy in this dirty under-track location too. Which is why it's totally cool and respectable to find a modern, delicious ramen shop doing its thing.
I say 'find' like I just stumbled across it instead of seeing on ramendb that it was one of the only 90+-rated placeswithin a good walk of my temporary office in Meguro. I also say 'find' like it's not one of the 40 variously-branded outposts of the Tetsu empire (although only the second under this banner/in this style, and the first is up near the original Tetsu, in Uguisudani). Back when I was but a mere child in ramen, I remember when Tetsu was one shop in Sendagi that I didn't bother to visit because the lines were famous. Now with 40 outlets there's no waiting. Or not much. I was second in line to get in after I bought my ticket at 1:15. But I was the last person that had to wait.

This isn't like the original Tetsu tsukemen, and I had a seat right in front of the reason why. The broth here is based on 'niboshi', or 'boiled dried'. Can you see what they are?
Ya, they're fish, Elmer. Little baby fish desperately sticking their heads up above the cap of froth and scum at the top of this continuously, furiously boiling pot.

One of the guys came over to turn the pot while I was there, and it was totally cool to see him reach all the way to the bottom with a huge strainer and pull up all the bones and seaweed and lord knows what else that contributes to the

It's the tokusei, the $10 special. Have I used this line in the last week? "When I see what I get for $10 in Tokyo vs. the $11 sandwiches I get in Chicago, I want to cry and smother myself with a pillow in my sleep."
But seriously, I think I could put together a perfect bowl from the ramens I've eat in the last week. In here, the soup was incredible (if you like that smoky, fishy, pork-bony niboshi thing, and everyone should).

See the weird shapes on the left? Shrimp wontons. Very delicious.

The noodles were a little meh. Not enough flavor to compete with the soup. Or the soup brooks no competition.

The chashu was, to my palate and jaw, pretty lame. It was thick-cut, tough, and heavily rimmed with fat. No matter how much I try, I'm just not a fan of heavy rimming.
The egg was served whole, which makes it hard to cut, especially when the yolk isn't gelled. It splooged a little when I finally broke it apart. But who's complaining? It was a good egg.

Here's the deal: you want the ramen or maybe tsukemen. You want an egg. You want wontons. You don't need the pork. I didn't even drink all the soup.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Purple Mountain Chinese Noodles, Tamachi (ラーメン むらさき山)

So here we are again, just me and Todd, passing an enjoyable hour getting away from it all for lunch. It's a little funny that we're both in Tokyo. It's also little funny that 'getting away from it all' entails sweating while surrounded by shortish guys in suits, but that's how we roll.

Or stroll. We did a lot of strolling, because there's so little way to pass a long time in a restaurant if you're noodling around. Which is a little contradictory. Strolling around most of the Tamachi grid (a known but unexplored quantity for me, aside from this place in 2009, a lifetime ago) didn't produce any more likely candidate than Purple Mountain, which turns out to be RamenDB's highest-ranked shop in the vicinity (I'm not counting the Jiro a few blocks over, because that would be dumb).  

We didn't have to wait long. Things turn over quickly (see previous comment). Like your stomach after too much ramen.

I felt a little like the bowl was slow in coming, which is an absurd thing to complain about. But I'm not complaining. I'm talking about seconds here. It just felt longer than other places might take.
Because they had to boil the shit out of this soup and SWEET JESUS DID IT TASTE GOOD. This place has no business being ranked lower than the one I tried earlier in the week. This was delicious!
Awesome awesome chashu, a good thick tonkotsu soup, very nice thin straightish noodles, and a blessedly small serve of menma. The lack of menma would be an improvement for most bowls, I think.

This bowl, I can't really think of anything that would improve it. Drained it again. 
Todd is into the 'tsukimen', or 'moon noodles'. Or is that 'sukimen', 'noodles you like'? Or should that be 'okonomimen'?

Anywho, this looks pretty acceptable, but I didn't try it, and he only ate half of the noodles and soup despite saying how good it was. Must be how he maintains his girlish figure.

Me, I drained it. Again.