Tsukemen specialist IKEMEN I've been longing to try a bowl of theirs for a little over a year now. Not in O.C. for a change, the location deep in Hollywood was one hurdle, but actually it was more the fact that they weren't open for lunch on the weekends, Sundays being closed altogether.
A quick background, this is the second shop in So. Cal. produced by Shigetoshi 'Sean' Nakamura (of Nakamuraya fame) who started the original Ramen California in Torrance (now sold and under different management). A little pop culture trivia, the lighthearted naming Ikemen is actually a slang for a good looking fellow in Japanese and the word's ties to the tsukemen go back several years to a comedian that entrepreneured the rhyme as a catch phrase for his skits. スタッフゥ〜！(jk), but a bit blurry image of the current menu can be found here (sorry was taken with my phone under low lighting).
Nestled in a tiny strip mall in the Northern end of La Brea, several blocks past Pink's Hot Dogs, references online describe the place straight out of a Tarantino movie, and for the lack of my own perfect analogy I'll just say I fully agree. The vibe inside is definitely the closest I felt in being in a bar in say Shimokita, with a cozy eclectic rock atmosphere, the chefs themselves sporting fedoras. In short, to me Ikemen is surely an attractive shop inside and out.
I noticed they had a few more ramen bowls than I first learned in early researching, all sounding tempting especially the Bonito Dashi Ramen that leaves no subtlety in description and guaranteed to be something I can sink right into.
Of the tsukemens (which they call "dip ramen" here) all are Tonkotsu based which the soup dip they describe as Au Jus. The Johnny Dip is a slightly Italian inspired interpretation with basil, green onions and cherry tomatoes while the also admittedly intriguing Ghost Busters Dip is enriched with cream, sauteed mushrooms, a little truffle oil, and roasted marshmallows.(!) Those who love extreme heat are not forgotten with the Back Draft Dip sure to fit the bill with extra spicy ground beef chili paste.
While having the house Ikemen Dip sounded perfectly fine to me I ended up with the Zebra Dip ($9) from recommendation of the kind waitress. The name comes from a drizzle of the Kumamoto inspired black maayu - charred garlic oil (in SD seen at Yamadaya). A choice of Chicken or Pork Chashu here (went with the pork), additional toppings I chose were an Onsen Tamago ($1) and Sauteed Mushrooms ($3).
From what I gather the thick springy noodles are an impressive Sun Noodle production. You can say pretty much the standard now as Tsujita L.A. uses the same (though they may use a version custom to them). The dip is actually not too "Tonkotsu" without any of the pork bone funk sometimes associated with. It's lighter and perhaps something not surprising coming from a chef known for his delicately nuanced Shio Ramens. Still great tasting and actually refreshing to me to the otherwise popular "once you've tried, you may have tried them all" uber viscous gyokai tonkotsu as impactful they tend to be.
If anything the dip maybe could have a little more emulsified texture so to adhere to the noodles better, but there's still plenty of body (collagen and some fat) where most shops that serve an inferior bowl is probably first to fail at having.
The pork chashu was leaner and only mildly seasoned though pretty tender despite. An aburi style where they're lightly torched. The sauteed brown buttons turned out a surprising match! The distinctive meaty umami of mushrooms complementing and also giving some extra flavor and texture to the slurping experience.
Onsen Tamago is served here instead of the usual flavored aji-tama egg and lightly dressed with what seemed to be a basil pesto oil. Sometimes shortened to on-tama, it literally means "Hot Springs Eggs" but they're let to soft-set in their shells at low temp (unlike poached eggs that are cooked in water with sometimes a dash of vinegar). They don't have that tell-tale white skin layer of poached but it's the same yolkalicious runny orb of deliciousness that coated the noodles and were dunked straight into the tasty rich broth, every last chewy strand.
Without saying my meal was great and as cliche as it may sound I really can't wait to be back so to check out more of their menu offerings. Those steamed bun Ike-sliders were tempting to try as well as the Japanese gyozas... But alas this was my second meal less than an hour after Tsujita L.A., haha.
While I won't argue that the ramen and tsukemen served at Ikemen is fusion, it's simultaneously actually more commendably authentic than most in town in the use of quality ingredients (some very traditional such as bonito) and their non-hesitancy to incorporate ample amounts of it that isn't
Check out a few other ramen blogger's take on the place: Edjusted's The Ramen Blog, Brian's Ramen Adventures, Keizo's Go Ramen!, and of course one from Rameniac.
IKEMEN, 1655 North La Brea Ave, Hollywood, CA 90028