Finally! After months of being teased by the words “artisan noodle” and luscious HD photos of bowls of ramen in the window, Tsujita opened for lunchtime ramen service at the end of October. The first U.S. shop to open from the Nidaime Tsujita chain in Tokyo serves two choices of ramen: tonkotsu – thin and straight style hakata noodles in pork broth, or tsukemen – the thicker and slightly curly dry noodles, which you dip into a separate cup of broth. I work a few blocks away from “the Little Tokyo of the Westside” Sawtelle Boulevard and have tried all of the ramen shops on the street, so when my Co-worker raved about Tsujita and declared that he could taste the “soul of a pig” in their broth, I had high expectations.
I am all for food being a work of art, especially one of my all time favorites – ramen, and the noodles themselves at Tsujita deliver this. You can taste the freshness and perfect al dente-ness of both styles of the noodles in every bite. In this sense, they truly are “artisan” noodles. Here are my first and second impressions of the Tsujita’s two ramen offerings:
Tonkotsu Ramen: Contrasting the just-made taste of the noodles is the richness of the Tonkotsu broth, which the menu states was made from slow simmering of pork bones for 60 hours, and you can taste it. In fact, while drinking the soup, I could see the tiny bits of grit from the pork bones through the thick brown broth when I lifted up my white spoon. The ramen comes in a small bowl that seems less than 1/2 the size of most ramen places, but this is a wise choice considering the broth is extremely rich. I’m told this is how the broth is supposed to be as it is at Tsujita’s counterparts in Japan, but it is a little too much for me. I recommend using the condiments available, pickled ginger and takana (mustard greens) to cut up the fat and saltiness of the broth. Just remember to try the takana before packing it in, because it is quite spicy. I also like adding a few drops of vinegar to the broth to make it lighter and brighter. The few slices of chashu pork that come with the bowl are just right, not too salty, but still flavorful. And I definitely recommend ordering an egg for your ramen, which is cooked perfectly here – slightly runny in the fresh orange-tinted middle, but still holding its hard boiled egg consistency overall.
Tsukemen: Even though these dipping noodles are very in vogue now and what Tsujita is more known for, I like the Tonkotsu soup ramen better. It seems like a lot of work and not enough pay-off to be dipping the thicker noodles into lukewarm broth and trying to catch the flavors and textures of both broth and noodle, while dripping everywhere and not quite getting the right temperature or saturation. I would love to taste those thicker Tsukemen noodles in a fried noodle (some sort of yaki or chow mein) incarnation though, since they are so fresh and chewy. After finishing the dipping noodles, the waitress will offer to add hot water to the broth so you can drink it like soup. The noodles come with a large slice of lime to add to the soup in the end, giving it a good tiny kick.
Due to the deep richness of the Tonkotsu broth at Tsujita, I think you have to be in the mood for their ramen. For other choices on Sawtelle Boulevard and close-by that are less heavy but perhaps not as authentic, I recommend Chabuya for their similar but not-as-fresh tasting thin noodles and wide choice of broth flavors and toppings, Asahi ramen for their mapo tofu and ground pork curlier ramen and free pickled cucumbers, and Ramen-ya for their great hangover cure ramen – tan tan noodles consisting of a thick spicy egg drop and ground pork soup.
ABOUT JANICE: Janice Luo is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Antioch University. Despite her occasional road rage, she is happy to live in the ramen capital of the USA – Los Angeles.