Just got back from my 9 Day, Epic Japan Trip. I'll be posting reviews from all the eateries I've hit on Chowhound (and on my blog) over the coming week. Thanks so much to Silverjay, kamiosaki, skylineR33, Four Seasons and everyone else. :)
This first review is a surprising one (not "amazingly good!", but already better than most Ramen we have out here in L.A.). I want to write a review for every place we ate at (good and bad), to give back to all the great Chowhounders who've helped me out. (^_^)
On our first night in Tokyo - tired, but happy from the long airplane ride - we decided to eat somewhere close to our hotel in Shinjuku. Thanks to kamiosaki (Chowhound), we had heard about a Kumamoto-style Ramen shop in our area - Keika Ramen. I had the Google Map printed out and we headed out... only to discover (on our very first night) just how labyrinthine and complex Japan's Address System was. Even with a detailed Google Map printout, and asking multiple shop owners in the area, we couldn't find Keika Ramen. (>_>)
After about 15-20 minutes of wandering in the area that it was supposed to be at, we were deep in the heart of Kabuki-cho, surrounded by thousands of late-nighters walking in and out of Pachinko Parlors, Karaoke, Eateries and various Gentlemen's Clubs of the Tokyo variety. Hungry and tired, I saw the words (in Japanese) for "Ra... men" and then noticed it said "Kumamoto-style" and we hurriedly rushed in.
The place was packed with the restless natives - one drunk Japanese college student spouting out about what the perfect Ramen should consist of :) - but we hurriedly opened the menu and ordered. It was only then that we saw the (in)famous Kawaii Chinese Girl Logo, this place was Ajisen Ramen! As an FYI, in Southern California, there are 2 stores that opened up recently named "Ajisen" (with the same logo), and they are absolutely horrific. But we were tired and hungry, and with the entire restaurant packed, and lots of hand-written Japanese-only Specials on the walls and in the menu, we hoped for the best.
We ordered a new special Ramen they had featured (hand-written) called "Tontoro Ramen" along with a plate of their "Iron Pot Gyoza." The waitress mentioned that their Gyoza was also a special item only served at some locations. Our Tontoro Ramen arrived and it was delicious! Apparently the name "Tontoro" is a play on the idea of a "pig's toro (belly) portion" (like with sushi), and their aim was to serve extra-tender Pork Slices in this Ramen concoction, and they were true to their word.
The Tontoro Ramen came with wonderful, thin, straight Hakata-style Ramen noodles; fresh and tasty Chashu; the famous "Hanjyukku" Eggs (flash-boiled? eggs where the center yolk is still very soft and creamy, but the outside is firm like a hard-boiled egg); and the "Tontoro" special Pork, which was amazingly tender slices of stewed pork (completely different from Chashu), all wrapped up in their Kumamoto-style Ramen broth. I have never had Kumamoto-style Ramen before, so I can't verify if it's "authentic" or not, but the broth was wonderful and rich, but just a bit too sweet for me (not like Sukiyaki, but sweeter than a traditional Tonkotsu or Shio / Miso Ramen broth, for example).
Finally, their Iron Pot Gyoza came out sizzling and tasty. The skin and texture on the Gyoza was solid. Nothing amazing, but a nice accompaniment to the Tontoro Ramen and much better than what's served at Shin-Sen-Gumi (L.A.).
All-in-all, this little branch of Ajisen buried in the back alleys of Kabuki-cho was already better than 99% of the Ramen I've ever had in my life (no joke)! It was extremely *fresh* (in every way), with a light, but complex soup broth (full of flavor combinations I'd not had before), and it was definitely *leagues ahead* of the terrible Ajisen locations in Los Angeles; they are so different my friend and I thought that the ones in L.A. might be the same type of "fake / copycats" that plagued the Little Fat Lamb franchise this past year (but supposedly they are of the same company). Regardless, Ajisen Ramen in Kabuki-cho made for a nice welcome start to the fine dining and great eateries that were to come on our Japan Trip!
*** Rating: 7.9 (out of a Perfect 10.0) ***
(Ratings are compared against the same Food Category (so a "10" Ramen is the best Ramen, but different from a "10" Steak.)
(Shinjuku Store, Tokyo, Japan)
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