Eating Ramen Alone – The Ichiran Experience.

Working abroad isn’t bad. Working in Tokyo isn’t bad.   However when the weekend arrives this is what happens:

  1.  You live in CBD district where it’s surrounded by Offices and restaurants and Cafes that ONLY OPEN during Monday to Fridays.
  2. Colleagues spend time with Family.  Left all Alone.

It actually is a lonely feeling but after days of eating one pot noodles and what ever is selling at Lawsons or 7 – 11; due to many restaurants do NOT offer English Menus and even have signs not accepting Non Japanese Speakers you find yourself going to the Tourist Spots.  Shibuya.  Ueno.  Shinjuku etc. Japan is actually one of the most polite cultures I encountered and I’m Thai….  Thailand is a different concept – If you don’t speak the language they will guess something until they get it right.  I assume in Japan it’s not worth the hassle.

So i found myself getting off in Shibuya mercilessly trying to follow the google map. (which from personal experience and  my sense of direction had a part to play) It took me 30 mins to find – apparently google map doesn’t work so well in Japan and especially South Korea.

When you arrive its on the basement floor but theres a sign before you step down on the staircase.  Being remarkably early there wasn’t any ques as of yet.

You wont miss it! The sign is quite big.

Walking down a flight of stairs you will see a vending machine. This is how you order:

Choose your options according to preferences.
You can opt for plain or with Sliced Pork, wood ear mushroom, and seaweed.

They also have something called the second round noodles. Kan Dama – Which means after you finish your bowl they will refill it with 1 order of noodles – 190 Yen or half bowl of Noodles 130 Yen. Interesting! I assume it’s not to waste any of their thick broth. There are extras such as their special vinegar, half boiled eggs and extra onions for toppings.

Closer look at the additional toppings you can order.

After you paid, a waiter will show you to an empty booth.

Check your preference and hand your order with your receipt.
Choose how you prefer your ramen. Luckily it’s in english!
I ordered their premium vinegar. Quite pricey.

Walking to your booth there are hangers to hang up your coat as well as tissue paper and toothpick dispensers on the wall.

This is your little booth – Water dispenser is on left side.
They will lift up the bamboo divider to take your order and deliver your order.
The sides – My egg and a wet napkin is delivered first. Smells fantastic. Albeit a bit lonely.
Bowl is quite big and the red paste is a blend of some spice and red chilies i presume.

The food arrived and you can smell the porkiness. Mine was with 1 clove of garlic, extra rich soup, medium dashi and medium noddles. The noodles was on the thin side which i prefer i’m not a fan of too thick ramen noodles. The broth is very fatty. I’m sure there’s alot of pork richness in there as well as lots of pork fat emulsified into the soup and probably marrow. The mouth felt like cream. Light, yet a dense texture. The pepper paste wasn’t too spicy maybe should have ordered 10. I think the best way to go is to eat some of the noodles with the broth, then with the chilli paste and then with the vinegar to cut the richness. The egg was a half cooked egg with a slightly runny yolk, the pork felt a tiny bit dry to me although dunk it in soup and it’s fine. The wood ear mushroom i think helped give that nice texture. The vinegar has a slight body to the acidic taste. Expensive but you need some vinegar to cut through the fat. Quite an interesting experience. Lonely eating but not bad. Honestly i preferred this to Ipudo. However, i had Ippudo in Thailand so maybe it can’t be compared. Do buy their instant ramen home as a souvenir to friends and family. Maybe you can bring a bit of Japan back home.

Arrive early to beat the ques and dont get lost! Allocate about 1500 yen per person or 1000 with plain with no additionals.

High Expectations at InkWell……

Making the trip to New Orleans for work and a quick stop over to LA just for Top Chef favorite M. Voltaggio’s new Inkwell restaurant proved to be a bit sad and disappointing.  Considering the miles flown for food it was a let down.  The hype and maybe the expectation was too high.  First we reserved way advance and the restaurant was quite empty.  Service was friendly but sometimes a bit snobby when we said the food was salty.  I don’t like people to tell me how the way the dish is supposed tot taste.  Salty is Salty.  Period.

Masculine Minimalistic look – Black Leather Sofas, White Walls Clean lines very sleek look.

The drinks we ordered were the blended whisky and sloe gin.  Prices were sort of reasonable i mean for the amount you expect to pay at a restaurant and from a Top Chef restaurant no less.

 

The blended scotch tasted ok not memorable however the sloe gin tasted like a chinese medicine brew with a coffee aftertaste.  Like not good. You can smell it and a lingering after taste in your mouth.  The menus seemed kind of reasonable for some dishes and pricey for others.  Again I ate at Craft many years ago and prices was higher although the food was impeccable.  (Skirt steak was still soft 5 hours later)

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The waitress suggested 5 dishes to share for the two of us but we went a bit over board as it was a loong way from Thailand.  The waitress also said the kitchen will determine the order of the courses according to taste.  Sounded smart to me.

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Heirloom Tomatoes, Watermelon, Pickled Rind, Sheeps Feta

All components was yummy.  Tomatoes fresh – Lovely Taste – Feta strong and Delicious.  Yet the dish had no ooomph to it.  It was not something you remember forever.

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Frisee Salad with Crispy Pork Ear & egg yolk pudding…

Of the evening this was one of the dishes that i will remember.  Simply well dressed greens – Crispy delicious Pork Ears.  And underneath.. A supremely eggy pudding/custard that was so fine, delicate without being too eggy even if it was very egg yolk.  Together the combination was marvelous.  I admit. Savoury, Creamy, Sharp Vinaigrette, Crispy Pork, crunchy greens, soft smoothness on tongue from pudding.   10 / 10

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Eggy Pudding – Soft, Silky Yummy

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Streeet Corn – Foritos with Cotija Cheese

Cheese was delicious and the puffy Chip was delicious.  Stops there.  The creamy corn was saltier with every bite and we informed the waiter but he said that was how it is and that it’s not salty.  So we left it at that.

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Beef Tartare with Banh Mi Flavours

The tartare was yummy (but not memorable) we didn’t see any Vietnamese flavours aside from the asian herbs on top.  The mayo was the star of the dish – Airy, fluffy cloud of deliciousness.  I will remember this mayo forever.  9/10

The interesting part of this was that the fish dishes came after the heartier savoury beef tartare. Even in the menu the meat dishes was listed after the seafood ones.

I thought this dish was rather well executed, i think the delicate tuna meshed well with the celery root.  However I didn’t really understand the tofu mustard.  Didn’t taste like tofu or mustard.

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Tuna Tartare with Tofu Mustard

The balance of fattiness and the crispy celery root was well done.  The green powder wasn’t really needed as there was so little of it and can’t taste the flavour but i thought it was quite fun and easy to eat.  9/10

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Creamy, tangy and delicate Flavours.

Unfortunately things are going downhill.  The octopus was burnt and over cooked.  Like a dog’s chew toy.  Quite awful sadly.  The pasta was way undercooked – Not al dente.  You can see the raw pasta in the middle when you bit into it. The flavours seemed alright however i couldn’t get past the rubbery octopus and hard pasta.  It was very sad.

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Octopus, Ink shells and Pimento

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Lamb Belly and Pine nuts cassoulet and yogurt curds…

I was really looking forward to this dish.  I love bellys of every animal.  It’s fatty, rich and tender.  Strangely it was stringy, chewy and not a great texture of lamb belly.  The pine nuts felt like it’s past it’s prime.  When nuts aren’t creamy but has that stale taste it’s a bit of a huge let down.  The yogurt curds was delicious. Creamy, sourish and thick.  That was it.  Kind of heart breaking at 30 bucks for delicious yogurt.  Curds…..

Sadly it was a memorable evening but i remember more of the bad bits rather than the good.  I think it was the expectation and considering i was a huge fan.  I would rate the overall experience at 4/10.  More of an ink blot than ink.well……

Fiery Spicy Szechuan Cuisine

My knowledge of Szechuan Cuisine or Sichuan Food is actually limited to Ma La Hot Pot, the bubbling stock with hot oil, szechuan peppercorns, garlic, five spice ingredients and extreme amount of dried chillies.  It is actually my favorite type of hot pot.  Going to a szechuan restaurant was interested or so i thought.  Would it actually be the same approach?  All food just topped with the spicy oil / spices?  I was in for a treat.

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Waste Nothing!

Organ meat is a very chinese thing, we eat everything.  Most likely it’s a waste not mentality.  If i’m not istaken this is the stomach from a cow.  It’s got a chewy crispyish texture more than any taste actually but the spicy garlicy oil made it a nice appetizer to whet your appetite before the fire starts.  I appreciated the green cirpsy and watery thin celery stalk to help add some coolness to my poor tongue.

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Decadent Pork Belly

This was not spicy at all, i think it was great over piping hot rice.  I’m not entirely sure how they made that sauce but it was more sesame in taste, i’m sure there’s ginger in there somewhere.  I understand it looks oily but it doesn’t feel too oily, it doesn’t coat your tongue like when you chew on a blob of butter or margarine.  It seems to melt away leaving this comforting taste.  Really good.  Too salty to eat alone although i preferred it with some rice.

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Nice hit of crispy greens

In Thailand food we usually stir fry cabage with fish sauce, over thre it’s oyster sauce i presume with a few dried chillies thrown in for good measure.  Done correctly cabbage shouldn’t soggy but  with a nice crisp texture and juicy freshness.  This helped balace out all the rich meats so far.

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Ma La Craziness!

My absolute favorite is the Ma La spices, this arrived smoking hot and you can actually feel the dried chillies sizzling in the hot oil.  It’s probably palm oil, with dried chillies, garlic, szechuan peppercorns and other crazy goodness. There is a thick vermicelli noodle which is sticky and chewy in texture and sliced beef.  It was a bomb of chillies, numbness and savory saltiness in every bite.  The beef was tender and the soup underneath was quite delicious.  However you do have to sort your way through the pool of oil.  People may cringe at the amount of oil, but i’m actually ok, it’s not like we eat this every single day.

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Chilli Power!

Now this is everyone’s favorite, the MAPO TOFU.  You see in japanese restaurants but you dont really find it in every chinese restaurant.  Chinese food is quite vast with different regions serving totally different food.  This was like bolder MA LA crazy version, it was so spicy, a hint of sweet with a bit of minced prok thrown in for good measure.  It was so delicious over piping hot rice.  You can’t really eat it on it’s own, it starts to burn after the third bite.

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Best Potato I have ever Tasted!!!!

This potato dish arrived and i though it was just short strands of spaghetti stir fried.  To my amazement it was round strands of potato, stir fried.  Its so hard to explain, it was mushy, but it was al dente but not under cooked.  It was salty, savory, not too oily.  It was very interesting.  It was the highlight of the night, it seemed so normal but the taste and texture was just so interesting and delicious.  I must find out how they cooked this dish.

Szechuan cuisine is really more than just the hot pot but i do believe it’s an acquired taste, it’s very different from my day to day chinese food but it’s a great lift to a cold gloomy day washed with some cold beer.  Definitely for people who love spice, and dont mind a bit of oiliness.  Only warning is for your stomach and it’s a scary addiction.