Tuesday, March 30, 2010

はやしまる (Hayashimaru)

Not a whole lot to tell this time around. I had heard good things about Hayashimaru, a relatively new shop that opened in the last year or two in an alley in North Koenji. Despite being such a major hangout zone (or perhaps precisely because of it?) Koenji is a bit starved for good ramen, or at least was until the recent opening of the Koenji Ramen Street beneath the station.

Tucked away off one of the main shopping drags a few minutes north of the station, Hayashimaru is a popular spot, with a short line manifesting itself by lunch time. The crowd was almost impressively well-balanced, with a few older people, a few younger couples, a few single dudes, and a whole family of four on the way home from little league baseball practice.

Perhaps the reason why Hayashimaru draws such a broad crowd is because its ramen is so accessible and the staff is so courteous, with a clean new kitchen a far cry from the back alley ramen shops of yore.

For whatever reason, I was expecting something of an old school, deep, strong shôyu (soy sauce) broth, but Hayashimaru's soup is pretty close to the standard model for 21st century new school shôyu - pale brown, mild, a bit sweet, a bit fishy, not too oily. It almost tasted like tsukemen broth from a mainstream tsukemen shop that had been diluted to a sippable level. This is ramen to be loved by all...

...well, all but dedicated ramen freaks like me who eat multiple bowls a week. There was just nothing going in with Hayashimaru to get me excited. It was executed smoothly, the noodles were homemade, fresh, and above average, and the egg was bursting with flavor, but the soup just didn't have that punch I was looking for.

To be fair, it seems like Hayashimaru's big menu item is the shio (salt) ramen with extra wontons. The soupless Chinese-style tantanmen also appeared to be quite popular. The meat seemed to be the star here, with huge cuts of fatty pork on most bowls, and even huger, fattier cuts of braised pork belly served as side dishes. Being the non-meat eating pseudo-vegetarian that I am, I think I'm just not the ideal customer for what Hayashimaru has to offer. So, I'll pass on any future visits to Hayashimaru, but if you like meat or wontons or meaty wontons, give it a shot. I can't in good faith talk shit on a shop that has made itself into the well-loved neighborhood shop for the new ramen generation.


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