Friday, May 7, 2010

Bigakuya, Toyocho (美学屋)

There's no question that Tabelog is the single greatest resource for Tokyo eaters. It's a terrific example of crowdsourcing gone right, far from a regular occurence. There are only a few shortcomings that I've found over time. One is that popularity is self-perpetuating; the scores of the top places tend to get pushed up over time as people try them and then can't resist following the herd by awarding 5's. The other is that low-end places are hard to diagnose; I find Tabelog most reliable when it comes to high-end French restaurants, and least reliable for ramen.

On the other hand, when they publish their yearly best-of Tokyo ramen lists, you should still give it least a little thought. What's especially weird is that 2009's #1, #3 and #16 places are all within an easy walk of my home. #3 is still the best ramen I've ever had (it was #1 the prior year). #1 is frankly confusing. This is #16, and it was great.

I rode my bike to get there, which is only 5 minutes. Walking in and sitting down was a realy oddity - the first thing I noticed was a Blackberry on the counter, which is rare. Then I sat down and noticed that my neighbor was...foreign. Weird stuff, but I guess foreign pet food executives have to eat lunch somewhere too.

Inside is just a ramen shop, although a bit more clean and maybe stylish than the usual. I realize I should be careful about saying that, because the folding stools and bare floors are only stylish compared to other ramen shops, not to real restaurants.

My neighbor told me that the chef is the same guy every day. Must be his place. Good job, duder.

This, I think is in the Tokyo style, but I'm not totally sure. Clear, light (salty as hell) drinkable soup; medium-thick, white, straight noodles, good egg, good pork, menma, a little spinach, a little seaweed. Not a lot of gimmicks, just getting all the elements right.

The noodles came from Mikawaya (三河屋). I wish I could tell you if it was a famous factory, but I'm not that into ramen (I see though that Nate describes it as the 'industry standard' among other things). Still, excellent noodles, you can see in this picture that the egg yolk is mostly just gel, and if you squint you can see how soft the pork was (though a little spongy, which is a texture I recognize but find disturbing. Still, better than hard or chewy). I really wanted a refill of noodles, but didn't see it on the menu, and want to eat less anyway, so forewent such activity.

While I'm not that into ramen, this ramen, I was that into. And here's the bottom of the bowl to prove it. When's the last time you saw me do that? Come to think of it, when's the last time you saw me eat ramen?

In person, I mean. Unless you're Iwan.

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