I'm not sure why so many ramen shops have the character for tiger in the name - there's Menya Musashi Takatora, Kotatsu, and a host of others around town. Eating a lot of ramen is in no danger of bestowing anyone with any alacrity or ferocity. Maybe the stripes sorta look like noodles?
This time around we have Taketora, the "tiger in the bamboo." Nope, sorry, I couldn't tell you if it's crouching or not. In this case, we might read "tiger" as a metaphor for ramen, and "bamboo" as a metaphor for the dense thicket of cabaret clubs in central Kabukicho, ground zero for "evening entertainment" in Tokyo.
Fortunately, unlike many of its neighbors, this tiger is awake during daylight hours. I feel like Kabukicho is one of the great unsung ramen zones of Tokyo - sure it's plenty sketchy at night and weirdly dead while the sun is out, but all those denizens of the dark have to eat, and they seem to choose ramen with some frequency. There's a branch of Jirô, the great Hitotsubo, the tasty Tonchin (review coming soon), and plenty of other serviceable joints.
On this particular day, I shared Taketora with a gaggle of young and fresh-faced big haired hosts out on their lunch break - well-coiffed dudes designated with the task of relieving females of their cash with coy looks and overpriced champagne. To be more precise though, I wasn't really sharing the space with these dudes at all, since behind the counter there are a few "private rooms", because nothing says romancing a professional like a tete-a-tete over ramen, right?
I wasn't prepared to give Taketora second shrift, and in fact I'd walked by a number of times without noticing it - in general photo menus are a bad sign when searching for good ramen. But the meal started out right, with a nice warm towel handed to me by a pretty girl with a bad dye job - what do you think this is, NOT Kabukicho? Hot towels and pretty girls with bad jobs are literally what keeps this town running.
It was good notices from one of my favorite ramen critics, the equally well-coiffed Takahashi Jôji that convinced me to give Taketora a try; the shop's only been open a year and change, but I've yet to be led astray by a Takahashi rec.
Next up was a small dish of fried noodles to snack on while waiting. Sâbisu sâbisu! Or, for the non-Japanese speakers reading the blog, "service, service!" Taketora is one of those new-fangled "ramen dining" restaurants, so they offer lots of little bonuses to give you a feel-good experience, including a free upgrade to large size and a free topping at lunch time. But all that's moot if the ramen is no good, right?
Fortunately, Taketora's bowl is quite tasty, a new school shôyu (soy sauce) soup that manages to avoid resorting to the cookie cutter post-tsukemen boom mildly fishy mode. Rather, the broth is a blend of quite strong but not overly oily chicken and pork soup with a shôyu taste at once deep, light, and almost sweet. It's important for soy-based shops to have a good shôyu supplier, and Taketora seems to have found one I haven't tasted before. I dug it like I was digging the decent jazz on the stereo. Big, chunky and flavorful bamboo hunks, an extra egg-half, and sippable soup. I wonder what the hungry hosts in the next room thought?
Taketora's noodles are somewhat unusual for ramen of it's type - rather than go with the medium thick straightish, whiteish noodles in vogue with new school shôyu, Taketora uses very yellow, curly noodles made with raw egg, not dissimilar from those you might find in a bowl of Sapporo ramen. They stayed chewy and firm all the way through the (generously sized) bowl, so I think some of the yellow color might also be due to a high kansui (alkali water) content.
"Are you familiar with tiger oil?" the waiter asked me. Umm, is this some kind of Chinese medicine sex vitality thing? Far from it, the shop's trademark "tiger oil" comes free alongside your bowl, and is a tangy but not overpowering garlic oil to drizzle on top. Nothing mind-blowing, but it's nice to mix it up halfway through. This was a solid bowl, and I found myself slurping down to the dregs. You could do a lot worse than bagging this tiger when bush hunting (oh god!) in Kabukicho...