(Formatted with All Pictures here:
Finding a great bowl of Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) Ramen in L.A. can be challenging at times. True, we have Santouka's blended Tonkotsu broth (but it can be inconsistent), and Shin Sen Gumi was the first to popularize Hakata-style Tonkotsu Ramen in L.A., but it's been watered down for a while now. So when I heard that Mitsuwa Marketplace was holding their 2009 Kyushu & Okinawa Fair this weekend, and that the Torrance Mitsuwa was hosting a Ramen specialist from Kurume city, Fukuoka, Japan, I was hoping beyond hope that we'd be getting something truly worthy of Hakata-style Tonkotsu Ramen.
I arrived early and quickly found the stand for Tatsunoya (龍の家) in the food court area. Tatsunoya was founded by Chef-Owner Tajiwara Ryuuta who grew up in Kurume. Opening up Tatsunoya was a dream for Tajiwara-san: He studied under legendary Ramen master (and one of the Four Ramen Devas) Shigemi Kawahara of Ippudo fame, and he spent 3 years perfecting his Tatsunoya Tonkotsu Ramen Broth.
For this Kyushu Fair, Tatsunoya is only offering 1 type of Ramen, a kotteri (thick/rich) Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork Bone Broth Ramen Noodles). It's based on Chef Tajiwara's Koku Aji Tonkotsu Ramen served at his Ramen Shops in Japan, but it's not quite the same. Chef Tajiwara laments that he couldn't find the same quality Pork for his soup for this Food Festival (with the limited time he had to prep), but he said it's "almost the same" and he's proud of the soup he made for this Festival. :) Ultimately it seems to reflect his learning of Hakata-style Ramen-making and the roots of his native city of Kurume (where his original branch is located).
After a few anxious minutes, the bowl of Porky goodness arrives. :) Taking a sip of the Tonkotsu Broth... wonderfully deep and rich, with a soulful porcine aroma! It's creamy, rich, salty and sweet! But what's even more amazing is that Tatsunoya makes their Tonkotsu with just Pork Bones and Water (and a few spices). No Fish, Chicken, Konbu or other Vegetables. To be able to achieve this type of flavor with just different types of Pork Bones and his long-developed recipe for cooking and distilling it down is pretty impressive. :) But people with allergies to MSG take note: Tajiwara-san uses a "little bit" of MSG (unfortunately), but thankfully it's not overwhelming. I'm pretty sensitive to the Flavor Crystals and I only had a very mild reaction compared to many places around town.
The Noodles are wonderfully thin, firm and straight, a classic noodle from the Kyushu area. Not only is it a relief to find these straight noodles, but they're simply perfect with the Tonkotsu Broth.
And to top it all off are the toppings: Negi (Green Onions), Moyashi (Bean Sprouts), wonderful bits of Pork Fat, and the Chashu (Roasted Pork Slices). The Chashu is *so* fresh and clean (tasting as if it was cooked that day (and it was)). It's tender and juicy, as fatty as a slice of Buta no Kakuni (Braised Pork Belly) but a little less rich in flavor. Outstanding.
And finally the topping to beat all toppings might have to be the Jikasei Karamiso (Homemade Spicy Miso) that Tajiwara-san perfected back in Kurume. Just a tiny dab is added to each bowl, and when you mix it in with the soup, it combines to give an impressive extension of depth, a bit of spiciness, a longer lingering aroma to each sip of the broth.
What's even more impressive is the consistency: I went back the 2nd Day and tried another bowl of Tajiwara-san's Tonkotsu Ramen, and the Chashu, Broth and Noodles were even better! :) Price per bowl is $8.99.
A very solid bowl of true Tonkotsu porky goodness is something rare in L.A., and Tatsunoya delivers in spades. This is a bowl of Ramen worth trying, even if it's only here in L.A. for 4 days (hopefully until next year). Tatsunoya is currently only visiting L.A. as part of the ongoing 2009 Mitsuwa Kyushu & Okinawa Fair. When I asked Tajiwara-san if he was planning on opening a branch of Tatsunoya in L.A., he smiled and said he'd like to, but he wants to learn English first. :) Here's to hoping we get a branch of this Pork Bone Ramen goodness one day soon.
*** Rating: 8.3 (out of 10.0) ***
Tatsunoya is part of the 2009 Mitsuwa Kyushu & Okinawa Fair from July 16 - July 19, 2009.
21515 Western Ave.
TEL: (310) 782-0335
* Cash Only *
Tatsunoya Hours: 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. (or when the Ramen sells out (usually by mid-late afternoon)).