By now, there's a good chance that plenty of y'all know Gogyô. I wrote it up upon my first visit about a year ago, I rave about it as a point of comparison from time to time, and uh, it got featured in the New York Times. The place is not starving for good PR. But yknow what? I ate there again recently so I'm gonna tell you about how great it is all over again.
A few weeks back, my pal Y and I caught a show by my favorite cross-dressing torch song singer, Gallantique Kazue. Sipping on whisky in a smoky cabaret style lounge, we enjoyed an evening with one of the last remaining kayôkyoku (1970s Japanese dark and loungey pop) singers, as Kazue belted out the back catalog of Chiaki Naomi, one of the greatest of that generation.
Now, I happen to know that Gallantique Kazue himself is a big ramen fan, but as a Hakata boy born and raised, his tastes run to the same kind of porky smelly tonkotsu that I choose as my own superlative slurp. But it was a classy kind of evening, so where better to eat than the classed-up brand of the most classed-up shop from Hakata? World-famous Hakata ramen purveyor Ippûdô has been expanding into new genres, most notably, the fancy ramen dining chain Gogyô.
Gogyô is not your average ramen shop. The name is a reference to the five traditional Chinese elements, but Gogyô's own five elements are probably high-end ramen, tasty appetizers, fancy interiors, a sumptuous sake selection, and relaxed pace of dining. Relaxed enough that Y and I shuddered in the cold for 20 minutes waiting for a table.
We started out with some whisky on the rocks and plum wine...
...and an appetizer of vinegared cucumbers served with sesame oil and Chinese five spice. That was our sommeliers recommended pairing. Not. The place is fancy, but the day I see a sommelier at a ramen shop I'll choke.
That said, we were in fact asked if we would like our ramen "with our drinks and appetizers, or afterwards as a main course." Ooo-la-la! Not wanting to let go of the smoky vibe that Gallantique Kazue had created for us early in the evening, we both went with Gogyô's famous "burnt" ramen. This time around I got the burnt shôyu (soy sauce), which has a great musky, charcoal-like flavor on top of the already deep and strong, nearly black soy base.
But the burnt miso, which Y got, is even blacker, stronger, and smokier. The smokiness isn't just a metaphor - you can see flames leaping up from the kitchen. At the same time, both bowls manage to maintain a sweetness that put them at the level of some of the best soups I've ever tasted. I also like how Gogyô keeps the rest of the bowl so old-school, with a big slice of yellow-yolked egg and a pink and white twirl of naruto fishcake.
Gogyô's soup may be top flight, but my impression of the noodles last time around was lest positive. While definitely well-done, I don't really care for the thin but flat shape. My only other complaint with Gogyô is that the heavy ceramic spoons they use conduct heat from the freshly fired soup a bit too well, making it easy to burn one's lips on the first couple sips. But these are both minor quibbles easily forgotten when confronted with the sheer deliciousness in the rest of the bowl.
And besides, a scorched tongue is easily soothed with a dessert of smooth blueberry ice cream. You can go to Gogyô for a full-course meal, a loungey place to relax, or just a simple bowl, but I'm willing to be you won't walk away disappointed. The prices are also very reasonable for what you get, cheaper than even some more standard shops. I'll have to see if Gallantique Kazue has an opinion next time I talk to him, because this is ramen worth crooning over.