I arrived back in Tokyo after a week out of town, and I don't need to tell you what I made my first meal. Continuing my mission to cross off more shops in the Tsurumaki-cho area near the university, I decided to just take a stroll, enjoying the balmy weather until I found a place that looked good. I passed a bunch of tsukemen (dipping noodle) joints, but I wanted some proper ramen, soup and all. I went all the way east on Sôdai-dôri from the Waseda main gate, and was about to give up and turn around when I spied Satoru on the last corner.
Satoru bills itself as a "tsukemen specialty shop", but that's probably just to bring in business, since I only saw one customer order tsukemen, and more than half the menu was taken up by Chinese-style non-noodle standards. I'm guessing that Satoru is basically just an old school neighborhood ramen joint that is pushing tsukemen to put their name on the map in the midst of the dipping noodle boom we currently find ourselves in.
Satoru is definitely neighborhood ramen joint all the way. Stepping inside, it felt more like a provincial shop than a restaurant in the midst of Tokyo's most rugged ramen scene - rural tourism calendars, daytime TV shows blaring, ratty stack of last month's weekly magazines by the door.
Satoru is definitely the kind of ramen shop that women might feel a little uncomfortable entering - cramped, old school, and packed with sweaty salarymen and blue collar dudes in their 30s and 40s on lunch break. It's the kind of shop where you could browse some softcore porn or erotic comics while waiting for your order to come up, if you so desired. Every magazine I flipped through had at least four or five different ads for dating services to meet "horny older women." Satoru is a place of dudes.
Nearly all the basic varietals are on offer - shôyû (soy sauce), miso, tonkotsu (pork bone), tsukemen, tantanmen ("Sichuanese"-style noodles), and even abura soba (soupless oily noodles). I tend not to order miso or tonkotsu unless I'm at a shop specializing in them, so I went with shôyû, which I hadn't eaten in a very long time. I figured that at a neighborhood shop like this, the classic soy sauce taste would be the go to bowl. What I got was a little surprising, bearing more resemblance to current chic shops like Watanabe or Ore no Sora than a thin Ogikubo-style soy soup. Thin, long, straight noodles and a thicker, stronger soup are definitely in vogue right now, as opposed to the classic Tokyo shôyû with a clear broth and curly noodles.
The noodles seemed like they might have been steeped in soy sauce before being layed in the bowl, as they were rather brown from the start. Satoru advertises its noodles as homemade, but they were a little disappointing - I found them overly stretchy and they got a bit damp before too long - in Japanese you would say they nobiru, elongated, meaning lost their firmness. I think the phenomenon has something to do with finding the right balance of water and flour in the making process. There were also way too many of them. I ordered the second largest size (a free upgrade), and am of course by no means against large portions, but there wasn't enough soup to go around. The bowl that arrived seemed to be mostly noodles with just some soup between the cracks.
The soup that there was didn't quite do it for me - too thick and salty, and not very complex. Although the bamboo was thick and better than average and I got a free (nicely cooked) egg in lieu of a pork slice, Satoru didn't hit my sweet spot. Satoru seems to be a neighborhood joint trying too hard to be something it's not - a player in the Tokyo ramen scene. Shops like Mitsuyadô / Fujiyama and Heaven's Kitchen Reon have proved that it's possible to be everything to everybody, but Satoru doesn't pull it off. One of the weaker bowls I've had recently. The inexplicable statue of the naked little kid outside the shop might be a "wee" bit overexcited.
The traditional sweet shop down the block, however, was the bomb. Buying a sakuramochi (cherry blossom rice cake) from a little old lady is the perfect way to finish off a meal. Now that the blossoms have scattered, you better take advantage of your last chance to eat these red bean jam buns wrapped in salted edible tree leaves.