Citrus Lovers Unite! The Refreshing, Handmade Sudachi Udon Noodles of Ichimian [Review] w/ Pics!
(Formatted with All Pictures here:
While Ramen and Soba continue to be my favorite types of Noodles, once in a while, I find myself craving a good bowl of Udon. While the recent discovery of handmade Udon at Kotohira has helped change my perspective of the (usually) thick, wheat flour Noodle, it still hasn't dethroned Ramen or Soba for the top spot amongst the "Big 3" Noodles in Japanese cuisine. But that might be changing after experiencing the homemade Udon Noodles of Ichimian.
While Ichimian (English name "Bamboo Garden") is famous for their outstanding handmade Soba Noodles, they've now added handmade Udon Noodles to their repertoire, and the results have exceeded my expectations. Chef and Soba Master Yuji Adachi's Udon Noodles - like his Soba Noodles - are made fresh, in-house, every morning in limited batches; once they sell out, they're done for the day.
It was during my 4th visit to Ichimian that I noticed 3 new signs for various types of Udon. Surprised, I confirmed with the server that, like their Soba Noodles, they make the Udon Noodles from scratch, in-house, every morning. I could feel the excitement building, but it would have to wait as we had already placed our order before discovering these new signs. But no matter, as we were able to enjoy more of their classic offerings, starting with:
Ume Shiso Soba, Hosomen (Thin Buckwheat Soba Noodles with Japanese Plum and Shiso Leaf). (Note that you can order any of their Soba dishes as "Hosomen" (Thin Noodles) or "Futomen" (Thick Noodles).)
Mixing together the ingredients and taking the first bite, it's wonderful: The fruity tartness of the Ume (Japanese Plum) hits your senses and is perfectly matched with the herbal Shiso Leaf, and when mixed with the subtle, earthy qualities of their Buckwheat and Wheat Flour Soba Noodles, it's another instant classic.
We also try their Maguro Don (Tuna Bowl) which is fresh Raw Tuna, Green Onions and Seaweed over Steamed Rice. Like most of Ichimian's menu, it's driven by the core ingredients with a simplistic, pure angle: The Maguro Don has no salt added (except what's in the Nori (Seaweed)). There's Soy Sauce and Pepper Seasonings at each table if you want to adjust the flavor. The Tuna tastes very fresh, and with a bit of the Wasabi, Green Onions and Seaweed, it makes for a very light, healthy combination if you're in the mood for something like this.
Their Mentai Oroshi Soba, Hosomen (Spicy Marinated Pollock Fish Roe, Grated Daikon Radish, Thin Soba Noodles) is quickly becoming my favorite dish at Ichimian.
The lightly spiced Pollock Roe delivers just the right hint of oceanic goodness, and the Shiso Leaf is as enchanting as always in its fragrance. Add to that the perfectly cooked Soba Noodles, the Konbu (Kelp) and Nori (Seaweed) and it's the one dish I find myself always ordering, despite the many other flavors offered at Ichimian. :)
The Una Don (Freshwater Eel Rice Bowl) is probably the restaurant's boldest flavor item, a nice, lightly sweet and savory cut of Grilled Unagi topped with their house Tare Sauce over a bed of Steamed Rice. It's not the best Unagi I've had, but as a little side dish to accompany the fabulous Soba Noodles, it's a nice menu option.
Their Kare- Don (Homemade Curry Rice Bowl) is another good alternative for those looking for heavier flavors as a foil to the light Soba Noodles. Adachi-san and his staff make their Japanese Curry in-house, from scratch, which results in a sweet, mild, lightly spiced Curry. It's a little too sweet for my tastes, but it's a solid choice for those craving some Japanese Curry when visiting.
The Kare- Don is served with a little appetizer of homemade, marinated Katsuobushi (Dried, Shaved Bonito) and Konbu (Kelp), which is intense, sweet and briny.
But finally on our 5th visit is when we were able to try the new Udon items, starting with their Sudachi Oroshi Jikasei Udon (Homemade Udon Noodles with Sudachi Citrus and Grated Daikon Radish).
The Udon arrives soon after and the first thing that strikes me is how thin these Udon Noodles are. Unlike the more ubiquitous Sanuki-style Udon (big, thick Noodle), these are much thinner (but still thicker than Soba). I gently take a bite and a wave of Spring washes over me: Bright, vibrant, green, gorgeous notes of the unmistakable Sudachi Citrus Fruit stand in the spotlight, but then the deep-in-the-earth flavors of the Grated Daikon Radish hit next, and both just bathe the cool homemade Udon Noodles in a verdant flavor explosion.
While I appreciate Kotohira's thick Sanuki-style Udon (much better than the mass produced versions at most shops around town), these thin Udon Noodles at Ichimian are more in tune with my palate: There's a very satisfying chew without detracting from the meal, and with the wonderful Japanese citrus fruit, it's completely refreshing. :)
Their Tori Nanban Udon (Nanban Chicken Udon Noodle Soup) is a nice variation of the usual Hot Udon Soup Noodles.
While it's nothing like the usual Nanban dishes (very spice-laden, bold, vinegary), there's a subtle tartness lacing each piece of Chicken in their homemade Tsuyu broth (Soy Sauce, Mirin and Dashi blend). Their homemade Udon Noodles still have a great bite to them, but are softened a little bit more in the hot Broth (compared to the chilled versions). The Chicken, though, is a bit disappointing, being a little bit too dry and chunky, having all their flavor cooked away into the broth.
But their most popular Udon dish would have to be their Tororo Mozuku Udon (Cold Udon with Grated Japanese Mountain Yam, Seaweed, Ginger and Quail Egg).
It features an impressive ingredient list, seemingly overwhelming, but not at all: Homemade Udon Noodles with Kaiware (Radish Sprouts), Wakame (Seaweed), Katsuobushi (Dried Bonito Flakes), Mozuku (Vinegar Kaiso (Seaweed)), freshly-grated Shouga (Ginger), Konbu (Kelp), and topped with Uzura Tamago (Quail Egg).
Breaking the Quail Egg Yolk and mixing everything together, you end up with a delicious, creamy, silky and slick, chilled Udon Noodle dish: A bit of an ocean breeze from the various Kelp and Seaweed, a touch of tart, but mostly a lightly savory, viscous Noodle dish with a nice chew. (Note: Tororo (Grated Japanese Mountain Yam) is naturally slimy when grated, so those that might have an aversion to that texture might hold off on ordering this dish.)
Their Nameko Oroshi Udon (Nameko Mushrooms, Grated Daikon Radish, Udon Noodles) is a must order for Nameko fans.
Ichimian serves this dish hot or cold (we opt for cold which was perfect for the hot Summer day), which arrives with Nameko Mushrooms, Radish Sprouts, Green Onions, Kelp, Seaweed and Dried Bonito Flakes on top. A quick stir and it's surprisingly salty (not overwhelming so): The Nameko Mushrooms (naturally slick) are marinated in an intense Shoyu (Soy Sauce) mixture that by itself, is too salty, but when eaten with the neutral, mild homemade Udon Noodles provides just the right amount of saltiness for the dish. I thought it was just a bit too salty, but my guest thought it was just fine as is.
On my most recent visit, I decide to try their Sansai Tororo Soba, Hosomen (Japanese Mountain Vegetables, Grated Japanese Mountain Yam, Thin Soba Noodles).
The Sansai combination of Mountain Vegetables is a decent mix of 4 popular types of the wild vegetables, but I was hoping for more variation. When combined with the other ingredients, it's a nice crunchy variation on the standard Tororo Soba, having the same popular slippery quality, combined with their excellent Soba Noodles.
For those ordering cold Soba, don't forget to get a cup of their complementary Soba-yu ("Buckwheat Broth" (the hot water the Noodles were cooked in)) to pour into the remaining Tsuyu broth you have. It's meant to dilute the Tsuyu sauce and create a warm, lightly salted Broth to enjoy at the end of your Soba meal. :)
Ichimian is a small mom-and-pop operation, reminding me of the little, informal eateries sprinkled throughout Tokyo, underneath train tracks and tucked away in quiet neighborhoods: You order at the register, grab as much free Iced or Hot Tea as you want, and after you finish your food, you bring the trays up to the cleaning rack. Their Soba and Udon Noodle dishes range from $5.90 - $8 (tax *included* in the price already, so it's more like ~$5.38 - $7.29 for each dish, a great price for homemade Soba and Udon Noodles. :)
While the clean, earthy, simple Soba Noodles continue to be the true strength at Ichimian (Honten) (Original Branch), their new offerings of homemade Udon Noodles shows great promise. While I appreciate Kotohira's traditional Sanuki-style Udon, it says a lot about Ichimian's noodle-making skills that their new Sudachi Oroshi Udon (Sudachi Citrus Fruit, Grated Daikon Radish, Udon Noodles) has become my new favorite Udon dish, and that their Tororo Mozuku Udon is one of the most popular items on the menu now (more than some of their Soba dishes).
A note to those that may be trying Soba or Udon for the first time: It's nothing like Ramen Noodles which tend to be far more explosive in flavors and toppings. Instead, Udon and especially Soba Noodles' strength are in its minimalism and simplicity: It's pure, very light, and just wonderful in its chilled presentation. Calming, relaxing and refreshing.
*** Rating: 8.9 (out of 10.0) ***
Ichimian (Honten) Bamboo Garden
1618 Cravens Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501
* Cash Only *
Hours: Mon, Wed - Fri, 11:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Sat - Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Ichimian (Bamboo Garden
)1618 Cravens Ave., Torrance, CA 90501
Like you, EK, I prefer thinner noodles, whether Asian or Italian (which is one reason I much prefer hand-stretched to machine-rolled Italian pasta). As you trek around the universe looking for good meals, please continue to let us know when you find thin noodles. Thanks -- and great review. I'll be trying Ichimian soon.
P.S. Do you know of a Web site with an English-language menu for Ichimian?
re: Harry Nile
Hi Harry Nile,
Thank you. :) I don't know of an English Web-version of their menu, but their Menu at the restaurant is in English and Japanese, so no worries there. :)
If there's a particular dish you're looking for, I can see if they have it on the menu and translate it for you.
re: Harry Nile
That's pretty funny. The characters 田舎そば is "inaka soba" or "country soba" or what I might call a "rustic" soba (as opposed to refined). Inaka does mean countryside and soba in hiragana characters can mean the noodles, but its homophone also means "near".
Here's a guide from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soba
The main menu has English, but several items posted on the walls or counter seem to be Japanese only, the sudachi udon being among them. I've always wondered if those are actual menu items that I'm missing, or something else entirely.
That said, the sudachi udon is amazing...sometimes there are benefits to working 5min away from Ichimian. Thanks for the find, EK.
Thanks. :) I'm jealous that you're only 5 minutes away from Ichimian! I'd be there multiple times a week if I were that close. :)
And "yes," many of those signs posted on the walls are menu items. Some are basic reminders of Side Orders you can add to your Soba or Udon, etc.
I will make something blatantly clear in this post; The are not open for dinner service. I overlooked the hours in Exilekiss' Post. Dommy and I went down for dinner last night with a real hankering for Country Style Soba, only to find the place shuttered and Dark. On the other hand it gave us an opportunity to go to Gaja again so the night was not a loss at all,
re: Mattapoisett in LA
Those dinner hours sound about right. We were in a similar position as you and Dommy were. As we were headed out the door to their Cravens location, I recalled how quirky their hours could be. We pulled up their website, called, and sure enough - no answer. By chance, I saw their Rolling Hills address on the website and were granted a first-rate soba meal after all. :)
Another option is I-Naba on Hawthorne, near Torrance Blvd. They're a sister operation of Ichimian, with a full menu that is very good, including soba supplied by Ichimian. I actually found I-Naba's soba to be prepared more to my liking than what I last had at Ichimian, but that's based only on one assessment.
Definitely give Ichimian's Honten a try as well if you get a chance. :) Since the staff at their Original Location work directly with Adachi-san, even if he's not there, I know that they'd probably be the most closely supervised group between them and their #2 store (Rolling Hills). Let me know what you think if you go. :)
re: Mattapoisett in LA
Sorry to hear you went after they closed. :( I wish Chowhound or even Blogger had a "Highlight" Option (like in Microsoft Word) where you can just highlight key aspects (I'd highlight the hours I posted in the original post to really point to it :).
Yah, Ichimian is a Brunch / Lunch / Afternoon affair. I hope you get to try them sometime.
I've never been to their Rolling Hills location. I've always gone straight to their Honten (Original Branch) because I know the Soba Noodles will come out the freshest there (FYI: Adachi-san and staff make the Noodles at their Honten location (the one listed above), and then deliver it fresh to their #2 Store in Rolling Hills, and to their sister restaurant Inaba.)