Friday, May 1, 2009

Menya Kissou, Kiba (麺や吉左右)

EOITwJ is picky about a few things (no, really?). One of them is waiting in lines to eat. We've reached a point where we just don't mind calling ahead to make sure we can walk in and sit down. But today we waited 40 minutes. For ramen.

Why was that? One, the weather was nice. Two, we took the afternoon off to go and renew our driver's license. Three, this is supposed to be the best ramen in Tokyo.

Really? Yes Virginia. It's at the top of several reputable lists (although there's bound to be some self-perpetuation in that). It draws all kinda overblown, over-capitalized reviews (and, it's bound to happen, some haterz also). And it's practically around the corner from home, but even closer to the license office. How could we not? (On a weird note, there's actually a very palatable looking French place right next to it! This is in a tiny street that leads off one of the minor streets of Kiba, so it's pretty weird. Maybe the French place just opened to capitalize on the frustrated ramen-waiters?)

Arriving there at 1:30, the line was as expected - about 20 people (it's worse earlier, or on weekends). This was pleasingly brief - probably only 40 minutes - and certainly much better than the other 3 times I've abortively tried to visit. The wife of the pair does her best to keep things moving by coming outside periodically to take orders from the next 5 or so people (and to scold me for parking my chari across the street rather than in their driveway. I bet the neighbors are jealous and complained since Kissou gets so much attention.)

Well, since this could be the only time I go, I wanted to make it count, and got roast pork and boiled egg toppings to go with the standard noodle soup (Y1100 total). And was it good? Was it worth waiting for? Yup.

If you've seen Tanpopo, (and I assume every foreigner in Japan has?) you should be hip to a bit of ramen geekiness - drink the soup first. I think this is the real point of Kissou; the soup is like nothing else I've ever had. Granted, I don't eat ramen that much, and I usually get miso, so go on and hate on this, but the soup was incredible. I'm confused by the several expert reviews that variously describe it as pork or chicken-based, but everyone agrees it's a combination of meat and fish. I'm going with the pork team here. The best description I can offer is that it's like a really complex tonkotsu ramen where they've blended it (like, in a blender) to pulverize all the chunks of fat. The result is multi-dimensional and viscous. All I could think was 'viscous'. And perhaps 'multi-dimensional'. But really really good. It would be monotonous just to drink a bowl of that soup, but not by much.

Noodles - made in the store. Thick, round, straight noodles, perfectly chewy. As one reviewer suggested (the hatin' one above), they don't 'fight back' that much; I would prefer a little more wrinkle in the noodles so they filled your mouth a little more. Chashu - made in the store (I think), and very very good - lots of fat, but rendered way down to soft and smooth and delicious.

The boiled egg was every bit as good as described elsewhere. It was startling. I was flabbergasted. The white was done properly, but the yolk was just set, yet still gooey, and cold. I left it cut in half and sitting in the soup to warm up, but even cold it was awesome. Just so beautiful in texture...I didn't intend to write this much, but I now realize that I can't stop thinking about that egg yolk. And I don't like egg yolk...

While these are not things that I eat ramen for, even the menma were delicious. I always eat the menma on ramen out of duty, but these...I wanted more.

Yeah, I wouldn't travel for this, but as something that takes up about an hour of the day and is near-ish to home, it's awesome. I feel a little bad for them - I think they're too popular, and they definitely seem kinda tired and stressed (my turn did come in their third hour of work, so maybe they start fresher). They don't talk to the customers, and it doesn't seem like they're having any fun. They should probably double prices and slow down a little!

One note, I think there are a lot of people who think they're going to show up early and beat the crowds. I bet they're wrong. Go late if you're going; by 2 the line was short. At that point you start to run into the danger that they'll run out of something, but...well, choose your own adventure.

I'll leave you with the hatin' review, because even though he thought Kissou was boring and ordinary, it's really well-written, and clearly by someone who knows a LOT more about ramen than lil' ol' me.

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