Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tsujita's Edo Soba And Ichimonji Tonkotsu Miso Ramen (@ Mitsuwa Umaimono Gurume Fair 2012)

Another Umaimono Gurume Fair at So. Cal. Mitsuwa Markets has come and gone for the first part of the year. Today was the last day for this particular but there's usually another in the Fall not to mention the many 'Anniversary Sales' at various stores. I was able to make it out to the Costa Mesa and Torrance branches again yesterday for some showcased ramen tasting fun. As I mentioned in my last post, Nidaime Tsujita was back (at CM) with what sounded to be a classy Shoyu given the name Edo Soba, and curious first timer Ichimonji from Hakodate, Hokkaido would be serving a Tonkotsu based Shoyu and Miso.

Jumping first to Tsujita where I visited them on the drive back. Got there well past noon but was surprised to find the market only somewhat busy for a weekend without a crazy rush that I feared. Also unlike Ichimonji at Torrance there was absolutely no line, at least the day and hour I was there.

Hope they got more visits today (and earlier in the week). I felt sort of mixed in the pleasure of not having to wait, but at the same time feeling bad for all the people missing out on the seriously great bowl. ;)  For this fair it seems like Tsujita is sharing some of their master's original Tokyo roots with a classic Shoyu Ramen.

One sip and I exclaimed in my head "Thisu Izu Shoyu!" (デイスイズ醤油!). While it didn't have the extra strong Gyokai notes (of Bonito and Niboshi) that the version served during the past fair had (which pretty much was a less rich version of their intensely concentrated Tsukemen with slightly thinner noodles...), the flavor and aroma of the Soy Sauce hit hard in a really great way.

All that sweetness with absolutely none of the bitterness typically associated with one this deep caramel in color. I imagined they must have used some pretty quality Shoyu to achieve which was all harmonious with the also excellent stock in the broth that seemed to additionally have a pleasant subtle ginger back note. The pork chashu slices and bamboo shoots were marinated surprisingly stronger as well (don't think I've ever seen menma this dark an umber). Both toppings were successful to not be overshadowed by the soup, and to do it without being salty was an achievement.

Finally the fresh cut negi onions and right amount of surface oils give it that yin-yang dance of comfort and sprite. Noodles were the more typical thickness to match and while cooked perfectly medium-firm, were perhaps the only thing that I felt tasted somewhat average.

This would easily be considered upper tier Tokyo-style Shoyu Ramen. For the intense stuff Tsujita typically puts out, it could mistakenly be considered "light," but in fact for a Tokyo Shoyu it's quite potent and was super satisfying. Not quite reaching the level I had at Shina Sobaya year and a half ago at Raahaku but that was probably an $18 bowl if I remember right. So would I have this again for 10-bucks if I had the opportunity? In our sea of blah shops that serve a Shoyu suspiciously close to packaged nama-ramen, my answer is a definite yes. I really gotta get myself to make it up to the brick and mortar West L.A. location this year. (Pinky swear!)

Next up is the Tonkotsu-Miso I had at Ichimonji in Mitsuwa Torrance. I arrived here first and a bit early for lunch at 10:30AM. The shops in the food court including wouldn't be starting until 11. So I grabbed a few Korokke (Croquettes) and killed some time checking out the other participating stalls. (And I apologize again for the usual lack of coverage of these!) I also had some of these potato croquettes here in San Diego end of last week. The price was right and I got to try a few including creamy crab (kani kureemu), one with finely minced scallops and a simple one only laced with butter (じゃがバター, jaga bataa) which turns out I happened to like the most.

Ichimonji was said to be from Hakodate, Hokkaido so I thought I should try the Miso flavor if I were to sample only one bowl. It seems to be an original creation of the shop's which doesn't reflect emulating a particular regional style or pedigree.

The first sip was pretty satisfying where I could immediately taste the stronger tangy flavors of red miso. Most shops here underplay this to an annoying degree where when they do, you end up with a bowl that tastes like mild Miso Soup (not particularly enjoyable as a base to slurp large amounts of noodles if you ask me). While my all time favorite bowl of Miso Ramen would be the heavyweight bout from Sumire (they've visited Mitsuwa's Fairs in the past but I also had in Japan including Ramen No Eki), a decent bowl not need be as intense (though I wouldn't complain the least bit, ha).

Ichimonji's is a Tonkotsu blended that intentionally goes for a more rounded profile. Compared to say, Santouka's Tonkotsu-Miso offering option, the miso flavor is much more predominant which I enjoyed. But where Santouka has the upper hand is the solid tonkotsu component that compensates. I felt ichimonji's (at least the day at the fair) didn't deliver enough unctuous umph to elevate things to Wow status. Still, it was a pretty decently tasty bowl and in fairness if a joint ever served anything close to it here I'm certain that I'd be all over it. Since this was a food fair and expectations that much higher, I guess I was wishing for something a tad more indulgent with lasting impact.

The noodles were a wavy medium edging on the thicker-side, yellow in color and tasted great. The added texture of the slightly thicker side al dente noodles along with a flavor that can stand its own complemented nicely the relatively richer soup (instead of getting lost in it like many that underestimate importance of good noodles so often do).

The tender pork which was cut thick surrendered to my disposable wooden chopsticks and was delicious. Would've been even better if it had the grill marks that the photos on their online menu had. Maybe I should've gotten the Tonkotsu-Shoyu instead, and I also didn't try some of that spice paste and grated ginger condiment that was off to the side... Can't help but wonder, but if there is a revisit in future fairs I'm hoping they'll be bringing their Jidori based soups to sample then.

Happy Father's Day btw for all you daddies out there! Thanks as always for visiting.

Mitsuwa Market - Torrance, 21515 Western Avenue, Torrance, CA 90501
Mitsuwa Market - Costa Mesa, 665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Mitsuwa Market - San Diego, 4240 Kearny Mesa Rd, San Diego, CA 92111


Junichi said...

I tried to go to the Costa Mesa one on Sat around noon but is was jam packed. So I went down Baker to the newly opened Jinya instead. I had the black ramen and it was tasty. Since they just opened this month it was half empty. There are 2 new ramen joints that just opened in Torrance too. Hayatemaru and Ume no ya. Can't wait to try those out.

Dennis K. said...

Hey Junichi! How've you been? You must've just missed me. It did get a lot busier on the way out, but Tsujita still had no line.
Yeah I saw Hayatemaru on the way and googled it right away. Sounds pretty interesting. I've been looking forward to Jinya too but haven't went. If I remember right I think they were one of the first in L.A. to serve anything remotely gyokai. Gotta get me some of that! Umenoya is new to me, thanks for the heads up. Been wanting to try Ikemen in Hollywood too.