Saturday, February 6, 2010

麺の房砦 (Men no Bo Toride)

If you've ever spent time in New York or Tokyo, there's a very good chance that you've heard of Ippûdô. A few decades ago, the chain shot to superstardom by reimagining the gritty and stinky tonkotsu (pork bone) Hakata ramen of the southern city of Fukuoka as fine dining for the whole family. Love that creamy melted marrow taste but don't want your pores smelling like pig? Then Ippûdô is the place for you. There are now outposts all over Japan, and the shop caused big waves (is a soup bowl big enough for waves?) when a branch opened in New York in 2008. Are the lines to eat at the Manhattan shop still 90 minutes long?

Ippûdô has always been one of my own favorite shops, since I'm something of a dedicated follower of Hakata ramen. Their empire has also come to include the excellent and even finer dining restaurant Gogyô, whose burnt miso ramen also made an appearance in the Matt Gross's NYT article. A more distant relation in the extended Ippûdô family is Men no Bô Toride (Noodle Kitchen Fortress), founded by Nakahira Masakatsu, who spent 13 years (and three months!) working at Ippûdô before striking out on his own.

Nakahira was one of those "ramen youths" whose total eating devotion rivals even Go Ramen' Keizo's Epic Ramen Journey across Japan. Nakahira hit the road with his sleeping bag at age 19, sometimes plowing through as many as eight shops in a single day. A true pilgrim, Nakahira found his perfect bowl, and his calling at Ippûdô, and Toride, while not run by Ippûdô, seems to have received the patriarchal blessing.

Located just up the hill from Shibuya station, and an even shorter stones throw from the Shinsen station on the Keio Inokashira line, Toride's comfortable dining room plays host to plenty of hungry salarymen (and even hungrier slackers) every lunch and dinner. Taking a page from Ippûdô's play book, Toride is running a ramen restaurant, and a very popular and efficient one at that.

Toride's bowl is a cleaned up version of a Hakata ramen even more traditional than that reimagined at Ippûdô. The soup, while still creamy, is a bit thinner, the noodles a bit thinner, the toppings that much more bare bones. But all this in no way makes Toride inferior. Ippûdô, while based on Hakata ramen, is really an entity all itself, Toride's bowl is very close to the classical model. It may look a bit plain now...

...but squeeze in some fresh pressed garlic, then toss in a healthy handful of the free tableside pickled red beni shôga ginger strips, and a generous amount of spicy takana (pickled mustard greens), and shake on a few sesame seeds...

...and yo've got something a bit more like this. Half the fun of Hakata ramen is tricking the mother out until you've got a virtual garbage pit of garlic, ginger, sesame, pork, and chili to pull up with every strand of the superthin noodles. Like any Hakata shop worth its salt, you can choose from no less than seven degrees of al dentosity, ranging from bariyawa (extra soft), to barikata (extra firm), to harigane (downright wiry), to kona otoshi ("with the flour knocked off" - code for cooked for only one second).

Don't worry, these noodles are fresh enough to eat raw - I can say that with certainty since I spied Toride's own noodle factory less than 100 meters down the road.

In case that's not enough cholesterol for you, 200 yen gets you a ball of freshly boiled white rice served alongside a saucer of mentai mayonnaise - mayo mixed with sweet and spicy pink cod roe.

What can I say, I'm a sucker for this stuff!

STILL Hungry? Do what the locals do and call for a kaedama, an extra helping of noodles to soak up the last of the soup. Since Hakata noodles are so thin and low in water content, they tend to get soggy quickly, so it makes sense to eat repeated small portions, rather than start off with one big serving.

It's possible for your stomach to be delighted and angry with you at the same time, which is what happens when your bowl ends up like bottomed out:

Good to the last drop. Don't worry, I rode my bike 6 kilometers home after this, I promise!


Anonymous said...

Still 90 minute lines in nyc, yes.

Nate said...

aiya! at least theyre waiting so long for something good...

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