Saturday, July 4, 2009

Koukaibou, Fukagawa (Monzennakacho)

Somehow I've been craving ramen recently but unable to make myself eat it for lunch - despite the abundant options in the area of the office, especially in Kanda. So here it is Saturday, it's great to be alive and not at work, and I've invited some noodles to help me celebrate with a bowl of soup and some pig bits.

Koukaibou is of course the second-most-famous nationally-know ramen place within an easy walk of my apartment (seriously. The people in line were talking about where they came from, and the place gets high scores from the self-perpetuating ramen-scoring sites.) How does it stand up to the dreaded Kissou (other than #5, not #2, on ramendb)?

Easier to get in, for a start. There only 15 or 20 people waiting when I got there at 12 (28 when I left), where I'd assume Kissou to be at 50 easy on a balmy Saturday like this. And with 7 counter seats and 2 tables for 4, far more capacity to get those people through. Due to the lower pressure, a touch less efficient...seats stay empty for a little while, ramen isn't ready when you sit down, etc. But these are not things to worry about. Especially once you're seated. And the master actually makes eye contact and smiles, and the waitress is scrupulously polite (she tells every departing customer that they're humbly waiting for the next visit, for instance), and that makes me feel a little warmer on cold winter nights. But it's July (4th, in fact!).

While sitting at the counter waiting for my noodles, I could already smell the soup being slurped next to me. And it smelled like fish. Not in a bad way, of course, in a 'gimme summa dat' way. I ordered cha-shu-aji-tama-ramen in order to have a completely fair comparison to Kissou (and because that's what I like, and I know from experience at many places that amusing side items like their chashu don are never that interesting. But they're there.)

Well, here's the verdict. I loved the soup - nicely vegetable-y, lots of fish, not very strong meat flavor at all, and little excess fat. One would wonder if there were pork in it at all if the master hadn't been dropping several massive briskets into the pot while I ate. The noodles were OK, but not texturally or flavorically that fascinating. The menma were huge, tasted pretty good, but were a bit stringy. The egg was just a boiled egg (man, that guy at Kissou sure knows how to boil an egg. Sheesh.). The chashu was very good; I dunno if they're boiling it instead of roasting (which would make it something other than chashu, I supposed) but the texture is good (albeit sorta Spammy), and it seems like they're using a different cut from the usual. So soup and meat, plusses, everything else neutral.

I get the feeling that this is kinda 'really good neighborhood ramen', whereas Kissou is standing out more and more to me as an example of a mad genius running amok in the kitchen (and organizing his operations with absolute precision). If you're in the neighborhood it's certainly not out of the question to visit both; the walk between is long enough that, combined with the wait, you could make some room.

Maybe bring a chair, make a picnic out the wait?

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