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Day 1 Tokyo: Ramen Yamaka, Usagi-ya, Ume no Hana Aoyama

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Eric Eto Nov 17, 2005 10:11 AM

Day one in Tokyo was pretty hectic. Being the tour guide to family members who are first-timers in Tokyo can be kind of complicated, but at least for me, I get to decide where to eat. First stop was ramen. Since we were armed with our JR rail passes and making our way to Akihabara and Okachimachi (Amedoori) for some shopping, I thought it would be good to stop somewhere along the way and chose Kanda, since there were a good critical mass of ramen shops to choose from, according to my handy ramen guide (the Top 500 Tokyo ramen shops from Tabearuki).

For no other reason than it being close to the station, we chose Ramen Yamaka across the street from the west entrance of the JR Kanda station and appearing in the book. They serve either shoyu or miso flavored ramen, and their ramen is enhanced with a shake of lard (really just really good pork fat), and each table has a little container of kimchee paste that you add to your taste. We all got chasu ramen, a couple miso and a couple shoyu flavored. Both miso and shoyu broths were well flavored, though I have to say I preferred the shoyu broth to the miso broth in a head-to-head competition. The chasu was meltingly tender, but with enough give that it didn't just fall apart when you put it in your mouth. You need to chew these suckers but you probably don't need teeth. I'm beginning to realize that although I enjoy the chasu at the Santouka chain, the texture of their pork is a little too soft, as it almost liquifies in your mouth. Not a real strong complaint, but I think the chasu from Yamaka was pretty close to perfect.

After an afternoon of shopping at Akihabara for electronics and a bit of this and that at Okachimachi, we stopped at Usagi-ya for their famous dorayaki to take as gifts for my relatives, and a few for ourselves.

Dinner was organized by a cousin at the Ume no Hana branch in Aoyama for a group of 9. It was pre-determined that we were having their winter osusume (specialty) course dinner.

-Mountain yam tofu
-Spinach oshitashi
-Tofu shrimp shumai
-Scallop nigiri roll
-Kombu marinated hirame (flounder) sashimi
-Fresh-made tofu with crab ankake sauce
-Taro dumplings in a dashi broth with grated daikon (mizoreni)
-Fried yuba
-Red miso soup
-Salted salmon over rice
-Pickles
-Yuzu ice cream

The favorites were the tofu shumai, the fresh tofu, the taro dumpling, the fried yuba, and the yuzu ice cream. The fresh tofu was served in a steam warmer that was steaming on the table top for a while. Once the tofu firmed up, it was ready to eat. It was flavorful on its own, or just with a sprinkle of salt, but the ankake sauce (a sauce thickened with potato starch) was a perfect subtle accompaniment to the delicate flavor of the tofu. The fried yuba was a revelation. I love yuba and can eat pounds of it at a time, but I'm not sure if it was the fried yuba skin, or the perfectly textured tofu inside, or the squeeze of lemon juice, but it was a perfect combination of textures and subtle flavors, enhanced just enough with the lemon. The taro dumplings are a familiar flavor since it's prevalent in a many winter seasonal comfort foods, and the mizoreni that combines a really nice dashi broth with grated daikon adds another dimension of comfort. When placed in the hands of an expert kitchen, its greatness just seems to be amplified. The yuzu ice cream was the perfect end to the meal. It was light, yet just rich enough and tangy with yuzu peel. I wish I can have this in my freezer.

Ramen Yamaka
3-12-9 Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
03-3258-1777

Usagi-ya (see linked post)
1-10-10 Ueno, Taito-ku,

Ume no Hana Aoyama
Aoyama Bell Commons 6F,
2-14-6 Kita-aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
03-3475-8077

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    Silverjay RE: Eric Eto Nov 17, 2005 09:05 PM

    The gaunlet has been thrown for Tokyo reviews. I'm composing mine now too from a recent visit. You beat me to it Eric. Then again you are the Chowhound veterin. It's all good...I'm looking forward to your next posting... If you can, let's hear about home meals with relatives...Thanks for the restaurant info as well....and I feel the same way about yuba.

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      Eric Eto RE: Eric Eto Nov 28, 2005 05:25 PM

      Here's a photo of the ramen at Kayama (please note the typo). You can't really see the little bits of lard that make this soup so rich.

      Image: http://static.flickr.com/34/68070882_...

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