Serious Ramen Noodles Hit So Cal... For Four Days - 2010 Mitsuwa Umaimono Fair (5/27 - 5/30) [Review] w/ Pics!
(Formatted with All Pictures here:
While Southern California awaits the opening of a hardcore Ramen shop helmed by a dedicated master who's been perfecting a potent Noodle Soup for decades upon decades, every once in a while we get a potential window into that greatness with Mitsuwa Market's Food Festivals that happen a few times per year. We've seen some average-to-good Ramen Noodles being served over the past few years, but this year, whether intentional or not, Mitsuwa has invited 2 of the heaviest hitters of Japan's Ramen scene to Southern California for 4 days, for their 2010 Umaimono Gourmet Food Fair: Chibaki-Ya and Hakata Ippudo!
* Mitsuwa Market Torrance - 2010 Umaimono Gourmet Food Fair *
Like previous years, Mitsuwa unfortunately splits their Guest Restaurants between the Costa Mesa location and Torrance location. We arrive first at the Torrance branch, and there's a small crowd beginning to build.
And right as we enter, I see the award-winning Takoya Kukuru, now a mainstay at the past few Umaimono Festivals.
And despite my disappointment every year with them, I'm always hoping that maybe this time, they might actually deliver some amazing Takoyaki (Octopus Pastry Balls). They always look so good while being prepared that I can't resist. :)
Taking some lessons learned from previous experiences, I ask for No Mayo and I crack open the lid as soon as I buy it (to prevent the Takoyaki from steaming inside the box).
I gently pick one up, but sadly, I can tell they are already soggy. :( Again. Each Takoyaki contains a generous chunk of Octopus and the flavoring of the outside batter is well done. It's sadly about the lack of texture, as each Ball has turned to mush. The Katsuobushi (Dried Bonito Shavings) and Aonori (Seaweed) help a bit, but it can't save it Takoyaki. This will probably be the last time I'm ordering these from this vendor.
Price for 1 Box (8 Pieces) of Takoyaki is $6.90.
*** Rating: 4.0 (out of 10.0) ***
Mitsuwa has also invited back the vendors for their bountiful Seafood Bento Boxes (they look absolutely delicious this year! :), and their Bakery specialists, Dango vendor, and more. (I posted thoughts about some of the smaller vendors during last year's report here. :)
But the highlight of this Torrance Festival is the famous Ramen specialist from Sendai, Japan: Chibaki-Ya. They've been invited before in the past, but every year, they show up with something other than their most famous Ramen. 2 years ago, it was the (in)famous Kaisen Fukahire Ramen (Shark Fin Ramen). And last year, at the Japan Festival, they brought their classic Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce-Base Ramen Noodle Soup). This year, however, Chibaki-Ya has finally brought their most famous Ramen offering:
Gyu Tan Shio Ramen (Ramen Noodles with Beef Tongue in a Salt-Based Soup).
Ever since I heard Silverjay talk about this Gyu Tan Ramen, I've been dying to try it, and instead of going to Sendai or visiting their Higashi Kasai branch, they've finally brought it to us in So Cal for this Festival! (^_^)
And to top it off, the Ramen master himself, Chiba Kenji-san - "Mr. Chibaki-Ya" - was in the house, preparing each bowl of Ramen. :) As soon as I set down my bowl of Ramen I could tell something was different: Not only was the founder of the venerable Chibaki-Ya here at the Festival cooking and serving, but they smartly took the time to arrange to have real Ramen Bowls (glassware) used, instead of the crappy Styrofoam containers used most of the time at these fairs. For Chibaki-Ya's #1 Ramen, there was no other way. :)
I take a sip: A very clean, Shio (Salt-Base) Broth washes over me. It's pure and bright, and has notes of Torigara (Chicken Bones), Pork and Tama Negi (Onions). The Negi (Green Onions) and Shirogoma (White Sesame Seeds) add even more wonderful layers with each sip.
Chiba-san uses a thin, straight, white Noodle, slightly thicker than the famous Hakata-style Noodle, but only just barely. It's still very thin and a great match with the Broth. The Gyu Tan (Beef Tongue) has a beautiful sear which gives each bite an irresistible smokiness, in addition to being surprisingly tender. The only negative is the quality of the product, but that's probably due to what he was limited to here, at this local market, compared to his usual sources in Japan. It's not bad Beef Tongue, but it lacks the vibrant, deep, soulful qualities of a high quality Gyu Tan like the Jotan (USDA Prime Beef Tongue) at Tsuruhashi. Otherwise, this is probably the best, pure Shio Ramen I've had in So Cal. (^_^)
Chiba-san also brought along his Gyu Tan Onigiri (Beef Tongue Rice Ball) as a side order option.
Their Beef Tongue Onigiri features plump, slightly moist Rice, with little, meaty, tender chunks of Beef Tongue, nicely distributed so you get a little bit with each bite. The Shirogoma (White Sesame Seeds) impart a fragrant nuttiness as well. A note for first timers trying Onigiri: It's on the "plain" side, but the beauty of them are in their austere composition. But with a sip of the Gyu Tan Shio Broth, it makes it even better. (^_~)
Price is $9.80 for their Gyu Tan Shio Ramen and $1.30 for their Gyu Tan Onigiri.
Overall, this appearance by Chibaki-Ya with their most famous Ramen is one of the all-time highlights of Mitsuwa's various Festivals over the years. Even more encouraging news is that when I asked Chiba-san about opening up a branch of Chibaki-Ya in Los Angeles, he said (in Japanese): "I really want to. We'll have to see if an opportunity arises." :) If Chibaki-Ya opened up in So Cal, we'd be a much better place for it. :)
*** Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0) ***
As we were leaving, I noticed Chef Chiba standing in front of a corner booth. I took a glance and couldn't believe it...
As if we needed any more incentive to stop by the Festival this weekend, there's a booth carrying Chibaki-Ya's Instant Ramen! (^_^) Sure it's not as good as Chibaki-Ya's freshly made bowl of goodness, but when you're thousands of miles away from Japan and need a fix, this is probably going to be better than the usual brands carried by local markets.
They were carrying 2 flavors: Shio Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Salt-Based Soup) and Shoyu Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Soy Sauce-Based Soup). I picked a couple of each and will relish these over the coming year when I crave Ramen. :)
* Mitsuwa Market Costa Mesa - 2010 Umaimono Gourmet Food Fair *
Arriving at Costa Mesa's Festival, it was already twice as crowded as Torrance as we approached the lunch hour (in their food court area). They had the exact same booths as Torrance this year, except for their own Ramen specialist.
Yes, Mitsuwa went all out this year and invited the legendary Hakata Ippudo Ramen specialist from Kyushu, Japan! I've heard so many good things about Ippudo and have never made it out to their main branch.
They offer only 1 item at this Festival: Their Shiromaru Motoaji Ramen, which is essentially their famous, popular Tonkotsu Ramen (Pork Bone Broth Ramen Noodle Soup).
As I stepped up to the register to pay, I noticed that not only was Ippudo here, but their founder and Ramen master, Kawahara Shigemi, showed up to personally oversee and prepare the Ramen! Wow. It seems Ippudo is just as serious about their So Cal showing as Chibaki-Ya for this Festival.
I turn around and notice there's a Seasoning Station set up just across from the register (be sure to stop by :). At the station they feature a variety of options to dress up the famous bowl of Ramen: Beni Shoga (Pickled Red Ginger), Fresh Garlic (with Garlic Press!), Shirogoma (White Sesame Seeds), and their own Karami Miso (Spicy Miso Paste).
Sadly, Ippudo served their Ramen out of the more convenient Styrofoam serving bowls, but perhaps they couldn't source any proper bowls in time for this festival. I sit down and take a sip:
Piping hot (excellent!), milky and creamy, with a beautiful reserved quality about it. It also has a great porcine pungency to each slurp. (^_~) After a few sips, I notice a bit of an MSG reaction and confirm this with Kawahara-san, but it's slight, and nowhere near as bad as Daikokuya. Still, for those that have no reservations for the flavor crystals, I urge you to try this Broth, it's easily the best pure Tonkotsu Broth I've tried in So Cal.
And then the Noodles: Ultra-thin, slippery, Hakata-style Noodles cooked perfectly (even under these foreign conditions for their kitchen staff). It's the perfect match for Tonkotsu, and one of the highlights of this bowl. Excellent! :)
And then their Chashu (Roasted Pork Slices): Tender, meaty, *fresh* slices of Fatty Pork. There's an edge or two that's a little dry, but ~80% of it is still very tender and very good! :)
(A word of caution: Over the past few years, I've heard reports that the Chashu on subsequent days of the Festival don't taste as good, because the various Guest Ramen Shops decided to just make 1 batch at the start of the Festival, and refrigerate and slice the rest for the remaining days. I don't know if Ippudo would do this (I hope note), but at least for Day 1 of the Festival it's been great. :)
Unlike Chibaki-Ya, Ippudo's appearance in So Cal is even rarer, and Kawahara-san said that he has "no plans at all" to open a branch of Ippudo in Los Angeles. :( Sigh. So for all the Tonkotsu Ramen fans out there, here's your chance to try Ippudo in your backyard for the next few days. :)
*** Rating: 8.0 (out of 10.0) ***
* The Mitsuwa Umaimono Gourmet Food Fair runs from May 27, 2010 (Thurs) - May 30, 2010 (Sun) *
* Note: While the Festival hours run until 7:00 p.m., the Ramen specialists only sell a limited number of bowls of Ramen each day, and based on past experience, they usually sell out by ~2:30 - 3:00 p.m. over the weekend. *
* Cash Only * (FYI: There's a Bank of America ATM inside the Market.)
Chibaki-Ya Ramen @
Mitsuwa Market (Torrance)
21515 Western Avenue
Torrance, CA 90501
Tel: (310) 782-0335
Hakata Ippudo Ramen @
Mitsuwa Market (Costa Mesa)
665 Paularino Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Call for Fair Hours (Ramen starts serving at 11:00 a.m. every day)
21515 Western Av, Torrance, CA 90501
665 Paularino Ave, Costa Mesa, CA
Thank you for the heads up. I totally forgot about the Festival until you reminded me it was this weekend. :)
Let me know what you think if you go. I think both Chibaki-Ya and Ippudo are worth a visit. :) (Worse-case, you can also roll in a visit to Torihei again (just next door) (^_~).)
I went to the CM Mitsuwa last night and today, and there was no sign of Chibaki-Ya Instant Ramen. :-(
So I went a little nuts, had Chibaki-Ya for lunch yesterday, then two bowls of Ippudo for dinner, and another bowl of Ippudo for lunch today. The beef tongue was great, possibly better than Gyu-Tan's grilled tongue; the broth was clear, but very oily and full of flavor. The chashu at Ippudo was still fresh as can be, better than what I got at Ippudo NY in fact. Both ramen were on the salty side, especially Ippudo, but not unbearably so. Katamen at Ippudo wasn't very katamen, unfortunately. I think i liked Tatsunoya's broth just a bit better - a touch less oily and more refined - but Ippudo had the superior chashu, and I loved the topping station (which also had what I think was shredded buta no kakuni, plus a pepper mill and a sesame seed mill). The guy at the station (who's from Ippudo NY) shook my hand when he saw me come back for my third bowl in less than 24 hours. :-D
Obviously I'm a huge fan of Ippudo, but I really enjoyed Chibaki-Ya as well. Ignoring my Hakata/tonkotsu ramen bias, it's definitely better than anything we have here. And is it just me, or are the ramen of all these different visiting ramenya over the years noticeably oilier than what we have here?
I agree about Kukuru's takoyaki - great flavor but the texture was a mess. It's a shame they don't make them to order.
Thanks for the great report back! :)
Wow, bummer. A reliable friend of mine told me the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa also had the Chibaki-Ya Instant Ramen for the fair. Strange. :( Maybe they sold out their limited batch on Day 1? I still saw some at the Torrance Festival yesterday.
Very nice! 3 bowls of Hakata Ippudo in less than 24 hours. Sugoi! :)
I'm glad you also liked Chibaki-Ya's #1 Ramen. I had another bowl of it with a Ramen Hound yesterday; still lovely. :)
Good observation on the soup oil factor. I noticed that as well, but I didn't mind this year because of the 2 big Ramen Masters showing up. They both tasted very good, so that was good enough. :)
Wow, on Day 2 / 3 they had Shredded Buta no Kakuni at the seasoning station area? Nice. They didn't have it on Day 1. :(
We went to the CM fair and we has the Ippudo. Excellent pork broth with al dente noodles with a nice bite. While I'll agree that it was a touch salty, I couldn't help but drink the entire bowl of broth.
As for the instant noodles, it wasn't being sold *at* the fair, but within Mitsuwa, near their instant noodle aisle, but facing the refrigerated section. They still had a few cases available.
Mr OCAnn LOVES takoyaki, but it was too soggy even for him (though the flavour was good enough for him to finish).
Very nice. :) Glad to hear you liked Ippudo's Tonkotsu Ramen.
And thanks for clearing up the mystery of where the Chibaki-Ya Instant Ramen was being held at in Costa Mesa. Interesting that they put this new addition immediately into their *regular* store aisles (instead of promoting it within the Fair like they did at their Torrance branch).
Yah, Kukuru is just... disappointing. I vow not to be fooled into ordering from them again next year. :P
thanks as always for your amazing reports. i certainly appreciated being reminded of what is where. from chino hills to torrance took us about 75 minutes, and the drive back was 2.5 hours. but that bowl of gyu tan shio ramen was worth every mile, as my wife and 2 girls also agreed. we also tried 3 of the skewers - octopus with green onion, cheese and spicy squid. the spicy squid wins first place. the takoyaki was a mess, but tasty nonetheless. we then had the bento with the uni, crab, ikura and squid. finally, we had some of the desserts at the tomato place (can't remember the exact name...) - sesame flavored panna cota, coffee jelly and orange something - all amazingly flavored. we also brought home both the shoyu and shio instant noodles. it was a fun food day for the family. thanks for the report, and to ocann for the reminder!
overall, i'd give it a b-minus. crab was a touch salty, uni was a bit dry, squid pieces were good, and so was the ikura...left to me, the rice would be covered by piece after sliver of uni, even if just the little wooden box with plastic lid kind...incidentally, there was some bits of tamago tossed in, perhaps initially giving the impression of more uni than there is...
i went to the mitsuwa in torrance for lunch. ek sums it up pretty well. the bright, not too salty broth has a little bonito in the background, and it plays nice with the sesame seeds and onion. the beef tongue was very tender, but they were swamped with customers, and it seems like they stopped searing the tongue. try as i might, i could not taste any smokiness at all.
ordinarily, i wouldn't have bothered to visit the mitsuwa in costa mesa, but i have to pick something up at the south coast plaza. ippudo, here i come!
Thanks for the report back. :) Bummer they stopped searing the Beef Tongue for your visit; I also heard from other friends that they had crazy lines for Day 2 and 3. I'm guessing they just couldn't keep up.
At least it sounds like the overall Chibaki-Ya experience for you went well. :) Let us know what you think of Ippudo. Thanks.
as predicted, the chashu had deteriorated somewhat since it was prepared, but still far from unpalatable. the broth was mellow, rich, and not too salty, while the noodles were smooth, resilient, and cooked a little longer than santouka usually does, just the way i like it. both were the best examples of this style that i've had in los angeles. i'm crushed that ippudo is not going to open a shop here! curses!
I always enjoy Santouka and use that as my "gold standard" for ramen but I tried Ippudo on Friday and was duly impressed--I almost had a second bowl but had to get back to the office and did not think it would travel well (and it is hard to slurp safely while driving). Unfortunately, I was unable to get to Torrance to try Chibaki-Ya so can't compare the two. The hope is, if Chibaki-Ya does not get the opportunity to open his branch here first, both will be back for next year's festival!
3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066