Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Heaven's Kitchen 玲音 Reon

Third time's the charm. I had attempted to visit Heaven's Kitchen Reon twice before, and both times it had been unexpectedly shut. I found the shop's (very cute) blog last week, and it turns out that last time I had tried to go, the staff had taken a day off to go skiing. That's a damn good reason to take a day off, as far as I'm concerned. Fortunately, eating at Reon was worth the wait.

Reon is pretty tough to find, on a small side street in a residential area southwest of Takadanobaba station. From the station, the easiest way to go would be to head south to Suwa-dôri, then make a right (east) and walk a fair bit until you pass a 7-11 on the right. On the next block, keep your eyes peeled for the black clapboard with the Guinness logo, then make a right (in the photo above).

The shop is on your left, located in a walk-down basement open to the street. There's no real sign, but you'll spot it, since there's nothing else on the block.

Being in such a remote location far from the station and off the main thoroughfare, Reon probably does a lot of business from repeat customers in the area. It feels like a real neighborhood place, and I feel lucky to have it within biking distance, though it would be nice to really be even closer and be able to drop by whenever. Inside, Reon is hip but homey, with a nice balance of designed interior and assorted clutter.

If you want to read magazines, there are plenty of those laid out. Want to hang out and watch the tropical fish in the aquarium? They got one of those too. Playing with Doraemon butt-wrestling toys (the pun works better in Japanese), is also an option. I could have done without the big TV behind the counter, but the sound was switched off, so it was minimally distracting.

Reon seems like a family business, with a just-past-young couple working behind the counter. There were some pretty cute pics of (presumably) their kid learning to ski up on one of the walls, and the overall vibe was of a space well-designed and clean, but "lived in" and comfy. I instantly felt comfortable and at ease. As an added bonus, there's a small Japanese-style back room with a little table in a cozy nook decked out with old posters.

Being a neighborhood place, Reon goes way above and beyond ramen - they've got a full menu packed with inventive takes on Japanese-Chinese specialty dishes, in addition to a small white board with daily specials, which is always a very good sign in my book. Based on the blog, it seems like they add menu items regularly, having fun and messing around with creations like Mayo and Onion ramen, which I'm guessing is probably tastier than it sounds. There's shio (salt) and shôyû (soy sauce) ramen, miso ramen, spicy miso ramen, tantanmen, wonton-men, tsukemen, curry tsukemen, yakisoba, the whole nine yards. There are a few other interesting options, like kôtômen (公東麺, "Cantonese-style noodles"), which are in a starchy mild sauce, and even tenshinmen (天津麺, "Tianjin-style noodles), which are presumably served with a sweet mock-crab omlette. It would take you weeks to try them all.

And that's just the noodle menu. The rest of the menu list is packed out with items like mapo tofu, shrimp in chili sauce, curry, eggplant with pork, and snacks like shrimp chips and stirfried veggies. And then there are the beverages options - good luck finding another ramen place in town that serves a Black-and-Tan with Guinness and Ebisu! Reasons to like Reon just abound...but all the good vibes and good options are moot if the food sucks, right?

Fortunately, it doesn't. Or at least, what I ordered didn't. After some good amount of internal debate, I decide to go with the tantanmen. Now, while standard tantanmen are a reimagination of the Sichuanese classic of dandanmian, Reon's rendition is still another step removed. The tantanmen at Heaven's Kitchen come not in the standard reddish soup, but in a thick, peanuty, sesame-flavored gravy, served with a few chopped onions and a flourish of red chili oil. Reon's tantanmen is more sweet than spicy, and while probably too simple of a soup (probably a light chicken base) to win over Serious Ramen People, this is comfort food at its finest.

The noodles are on the thick side, very yellow, and very curly, all the better to lift that thick brown succulent goo into your waiting maw. The noodles are allegedly made with tapioca flour, which makes them nice and mochi mochi (chewy); recently I've been digging straight white noodles more than wavy yellow ones, but Reon's are quality. I'm guessing that each type of noodle dish comes with its own appropriate type of noodle.

With just the noodles and gravy, I worried I might get bored, but I found myself continuing to down spoonfuls after the noodles were gone, telling myself "just one more, just one more." More than your average ramen soup, the tantanmen's broth reminded me of some of the West African stews I've eaten in Ghanaian restaurants in Harlem. Now only if Reon surved yam fufu mash to sop up the rest of the soup! With so many things on the menu, Reon's ramen isn't the most refined game in town, but I am hella coming back here to try and eat my way through the rest of the menu! A really nice experience all around.


Anonymous said...

I'm definitely hitting this place up. Every ramen shop in the area owes you money for giving them free advertising.

Nate said...

Ha! Not the ones that I think suck!

Anonymous said...

Hey buddy, some friends of mine just kicked off a little Japan blogging community at You should join up- there's no real rules or requirements, you just get to meet other people blogging the same stuff, and bring more readers to your site. You've got one of the most intense blogs I've ever seen, so I think it would be a fat hit.