iberico bar: true lard leaves no traces
Anyone who knows me well will likely know of my affection for Spanish cuisine, a passion which rivals and in many ways, surpasses even my love for ramen. Admittedly, I don’t eat noodles nearly as much as I used to. A steady diet of Mediterranean influence - fish and tomatoes, olive oil and beans,has replaced a lot of my gonzo noodle slurping in recent months. In part this has to do with health; all those fats and carbs have to go somewhere, and as relatively young as (I’d like to think) I am, it’s never too early to cut back on the calories and perhaps spare a few arteries in the process.
That said, though I’m not exactly the dieting type, when it comes to Spanish cuisine, all healthy olive oils, small portions, and Mediterranean-influenced preparations, eating sensibly is simply sexy. There are, of course, the legendary menus of Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and the wizards of the Catalonian and Basque avant garde, but done well, even the more modest, traditional dishes of northern Spain are an epicure’s delight, considered and finely honed like Japanese kaiseki, but without the asthetic restraint.
My favorite ramen shop these days, the one to which i return time and time again whenever I’m in Tokyo, is not, then, a ramen shop at all. Rather unsurprisingly, it is a Spanish tapas bar. Japanese owned and operated, Iberico Bar in Tokyo’s Monzen-Nakacho neighborhood specializes in the highly regarded pork of the dehesa, Spain’s famed oak forests. Free-range and acorn-fed, these black-hoofed pigs yield arguably the best pork in the world. Anyone who has sampled even a sliver of pata negra, Iberican ham, would be hard pressed to disagree.
But we’re here to talk about ramen. Iberico Bar’s lunch menu features shoyu and shio Iberico ramen, with noodles steeped in soup oozing the characteristic nuttiness and waxy patina of this very unique and highly precious breed of pork, topped off by sumptuous blocks of Iberico buta chashu, marinated likewise. Decidedly skewing European, white onions replace the customary negi, while the fascinating, fragrant local variation of salsola, okahijiki or Japanese “land seaweed,” adds both sage greenery and a crunchy, kikurage-esque texture.
Spanish in influence, Japanese in concept and execution, Iberico Bar’s lunchtime ramen offerings are the very height of fusion cuisine, as much as I loathe the phrase. By night the restaurant serves more traditional Spanish tapas, including various cuts of the imported jamon iberico hams adorning the counter. Upstairs, they do Iberian pork shabu-shabu, which, amazingly, I have yet to try.
It is purported that the monounsaturated fat from the free-range, acorn-fed Iberian pig is so pure and so wholesome that it is actually good for you. I don’t know about that. Sucking down generous bowls of lard-infused noodle soup, even if the pork does come from Spain, doesn’t quite jibe with one’s newfound zeal for olive oils and small-plate Mediterranean preparations. And yet, whenever I step out of Iberico Bar, I somehow feel healthier and less sluggish, less guilty than when leaving most other ramen shops. Maybe it’s psychological. Either way, I could eat this stuff everyday.
|sumptuous, unctuous, and oozing the delicate, glowing flavor of the world's best pigs, iberico bar's shoyu ramen soup is a savory ambrosia fit for kings. the shio is subtler, but still full of glistening umami goodness.||10|
|thin, white, al dente strands are the perfect complement to the magnificent soup. they have teeth and spine, yet they get out of the way.||10|
|iberian pork chashu. okahijiki. white onions. when you're importing hundred-thousand-yen pork halfway across the world, it better be worth it. and it surely is.||10|
|the lunch menu is limited, but the set includes a side of garlicky, gratin-esque rice seasoned to perfection. you don't eat gyoza with this kind of ramen.||10|
|decked out with tiles and f.c.barcelona and madrid football jerseys, the decor at iberico bar is certainly the spain of japan's romantic imagination. dim lighting, wine, and a long counter set the scene. it sounds cheesier than it is. in fact, it's a perfect date place.||10|
|no further words are necessary for what is pretty much my favorite ramen shop these days.||10|