Sunday, October 4, 2009

四代目けいすけ (Yondaime Keisuke)

A few days ago I was writing up the post on Shodai Keisuke, describing what a genius I thought proprietor Takeda Keisuke is. The more I wrote and the more I thought, the less I could stand it. Here I was singing this guy's praises, and I'd only eaten at two of his shops! The situation had to be remedied, and soon, or else I'd have to buy flood insurance to protect against the drool gathering on my floor.

I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon at my buddy S's house, drinking beer and listening to Curtis Mayfield records, but relaxed as I was, a plan was forming in the back of my brain. We'd hop on our bikes and go out cruising for ramen, then I'd steer us in the direction of the fourth and newest of Keisuke's shops, appropriately monikered Yondaime ("Number Four"). It did not take a whole lot of convincing to get S on board with this plan.

After a bit of riding around in what amount to the last burst of warm night air for the next six months, we found Keisuke. It was pretty hard to miss with a line 20 heads long stretching down the block. Takeda Keisuke's star has been on the rise the last couple years, and Yondaime has been getting a lot of press recently, with two page features in all the major ramen guides. I mean, who isn't going to be intrigued by LOBSTER TSUKEMEN? Because that's what Yondaime Keisuke's star dish is.

Well, one of the star dishes anyways. At lunchtime, Keisuke serves up "drops of crab", dipping noodles served with a broth made with a blend of pork, seafood, and of course, clicky little crustaceans. But baby the stars shine bright at night and Keisuke busts out a dipping noodle dish like you ain't never seen before. You might not want to let the beat drrrop, but you do want to let Takeda Keisuke drop 30 lobsters into a boiling pot of soup for some ill noodling.

The former french chef dishes out a rich, thick, almost gooey seafood broth that has nothing to do with your average Taishôken or Yasubee clone. I'm not sure my palette is refined enough to tell the difference between lobster broth (known as "Ise shrimp" in Japanese) and regular shrimp, but Keisuke's is a bit mild and not agressively "shrimpy". Good as the broth is, there are other shrimp noodle places in town, most notably Takeda's own Nidaime Keisuke, and Guren, whose delicious but almost overpowering shrimp tsukemen is at least as thick and strong as Yondaime's. But Takeda has an ace up his sleeve that makes this shop truly special...can you tell what it is?

These aren't just any tsukemen noodles, but something Keisuke calls "yakimorimen" - a flat pancake of thick flat noodles griddled to a crisp on one side. Pan-frying the noodles not only gives them a pleasantly browned flavor, but hardens the texture to stand up and stay crispy even after dipped in the gooey lobster broth.

And this is where Takeda's genius comes in. Not only do the griddled noodles taste good and feel good, they force the eater into a new relationship with them, and urge you to devise an entirely new methodology for ramen eating. Just grabbing dipping and eating won't work, and it's not a simple slurp. You've gotta break off big chunks and dunk them - I'd be lying if I didn't admit it was a bit of a pain, but I have much respect for a cook who forces one to reconsider the fundamental action of eating ramen. Um, plus it tastes really, really good.

You better believe this is another bowl I dusted off to the dregs. And when I did I found a little surprise at the bottom in a hot stone built into the bowl itself. Taking a tip from nearby Tsukemen TETSU, Takeda's realized that tsukemen get cold and icky if you don't take desperate measures, and what better than a hot rock to keep the broth boiling? Judging purely within the Keisuke empire, I think I'd give the nod to Shodai, but Yondaime is still stuff of the tip-toppest flight and not to be missed. You will feel like one rucky robster when you're done.


ryan said...

rucky and the robsters!
this bowl (and your latest post) look so freakin' tasty

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