Tag Archives: onsen tamago

Wasabi Tonkotsu Ramen @ Ippudo.

11 Feb

“The wait will be roughly four and a half hours.” Said the lady with minimal expression, as if a smile could hurt every facial muscle she possessed. I could see the smily chefs down the dark tunnel leading to the dining room area, working away at producing bowls after bowls of could-only-be deliciousness. It had to be, the wait was four and a half hours long.

And so we wandered the city of New York, mainly the lower East Side. Bookstores, comic stores, the Christmas market, bars and coffee shops. Everywhere.

Not a hidden gem missed.

Four and actually fifty minutes later, we were in. In the spacious yet dimly lit room of huddled tables, leather-bound menus with too many options were passed around. The official word on the web recommended the classic Shiromaru Hakata Classic: the original Tonkotsu – ramen soaked in white, cloudy broth made of pork bones and fat. Danny claimed Akamaru to be the word – Tonkotsu topped with their secret ‘dama’, an additional sauce (the make-up depends on different restaurants) to be infused into the ramen broth.

Akamaru- Source: http://www.ippudony.com/

But I, always a sucker for Chef’s Specials, took the rebellious rout of Wasabi Tonkotsu. I may regret it later, I thought. Questioning my choice twice, thrice, four times as others took their turns to order. Yet, already in my mind’s  make-up, the idea of a rich white broth balanced by a subtle hint of the green root couldn’t possibly disappoint.

And it absolutely did not. An otherwise rich and sometimes too heavy pork broth was cleansed by the shavings of fresh wasabi roots. It was delightfuly clean without losing the body a Tonkotsu promised. The sprinkle of green onion provided an unexpected crunch, while the chashu – while thin – gave a burst of maximum pork favor. Swimming alongside was the extra-ordered onsen egg, softly poached to savor the golden yoke; no longer runny, yet still malleable – the ramen-optimal phase.

The noodles was where I brushed up on the holy grail. For the many, too many, bowls of ramen I have ingested in the San Francisco, the noodles always slurped up nicely at first but fell limp 2/3 ways down the meal. Not Ippudo’s. Perfectly springy, they became alive in my mouth like the most wonderful acrobat dancers, bouncy and full of life. For the 20 minutes it took me to finish the bowl, the noodles sustained their curves, never wavered even while I took time to admire other elements in the bowl.

It was an amazing meal. Not to say the fried shishito peppers dipped in yuzu salt – sweet, tangy, salty, mildly spicy – didn’t bring on a spring-filled surprise in a dark winter night; but the ramen stood supreme.

It was such a feel-good experience despite the near five-hour wait. A bowl of good ramen brought on this satisfaction nothing could quite compare. The only way to top this experience better may be if we were to ingest it Japanese businessmen style: standing, by the road, after way too much soju and chicken gizzard skewers.

On our way out, we passed the expressionless front-of-house again. Unphased against a group of growingly agitated men, I heard her calmly stated: “The wait will be roughly one hour. But by the time you get your table, the kitchen will be closed anyway.” I admire you, straight-shooter.

Ippudo | 65 Fourth Avenue | New York, NY 10003 | 212.388.0088

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Sea Cucumber Guts.

9 Jul

It was a super exciting day to be dining at Kappou Gomi, a Japanese restaurant in Outer Ricmond that I’ve been dying to try for about 2  years (but somehow never made to). This was not the average sushi joint, as the sign in the window indicated. No sushi, no combination dinner.

Kappou Gomi is a family operated joint serving authentic Japanese dishes that can be found in households and similar family restaurants in Japan. Upon arrival, seated at the bar, we were offered this 8-page menu detailing various proteins available as well as ways the ingredients can come prepared.

kitty waited patiently as we look through the encyclopedia of a menu.

Naturally, the first thing I noticed was an item on Today’s Special: konowata, also known as salted sea cucumber guts. Sea cucumber is a marine animal that is often found on sea floors. It is referred as the sea rat in Japanese, looking a little like a headless version of Jaba the Hut. In Chinese cuisine, it is often braised in rich ham and scallop based broth, one of my favorite banquet dishes. That said, their guts was not something I was familiar with, I just hoped it would go well with sake.

braised sea cucumber. source: http://www.lifeofguangzhou.com/

The waitress came with our order of sea cucumber guts, served on a beautiful silver plate, hidden in a small wooden cage.

Lifting the cage, we found a small shot glass of a brown substance topped with a quail egg. (at this point we were switched from the bar to a dining table, because one of the dishes we ordered was too big to be served at the bar.)

The brown, almost cloudy substance was what I had ordered. To prepare this dish, sea cucumber guts were taken out of the animal, mixed with salt and malted rice, then fermented for about a month. A common animal-gut based execution called shiokara. I mixed the egg thoroughly, hoping for the best.

When I picked up the guts with my chopsticks, it was quite slippery to hold. The whole thing looked a little slimy, and tasted exactly that. The flavor was very intense: salty but with this familiar taste of the ocean that can be found in marinated pollock roe (mentaiko). It was overpowering at first, but really grew on me as I tasted it. Not only did the salted guts went well with my sake, it simply made me want to drink more!

I mixed the last bit with some sake and just shot it. Actually quite delicious, almost comparable to oyster-vodka shooters.

Our other dishes went tres bon with sake as well. There was this lemon juice marinated mackerel mixed with chrysanthemum, dressed in light wasabi, on top of pickled root vegetables (daikon, mini radish, lotus root). The fish was firm and zesty, clean in flavor with a tiny rush to the nose from the wasabi. The root vegetables sweet and refreshing.

Then there was the onsen tamago, hot-spring egg. Boiled to perfection at exactly 159 degrees, the egg was served in a clean dashi, along with salmon roes, fish cake, shiso leaves, cherries, and a piece of Japanese isinglass on top.

While the cherries were a bit odd (were they just looking to add something?), the egg was terrific. Just look at it! The yoke was cooked so beautifully, so soft so smooth so sweet. It put all the eggs I’ve had before to shame, its magnificence and simplicity made me teary.

Of course, we ended with that dish that was too big to be served at the bar: ishikari, a miso-salmon hot pot. Sushi-grade salmon cooked medium in a boiling, rich miso both, along with some veggies and tofu. A fisherman’s food originated in Hokkaido.

It was like a mother’s loving touch to our stomach, its warmth pleased us. Not a bad ending after some sake drinking. It made me think of the Japanese business men who would visit the roadside ramen stands after a few rounds of beer and sake and pickled small plates at local izakayas, looking to have something hot and satisfying before heading back home. Happiness, this was what it tasted like.

Kappou Gomi, I shall be back. Soon enough.

Kappou Gomi | 5524 Geary Blvd | San Francisco, CA 94121 | 415.221.5353