TETSU: iron in swine
Tsukemen is all the rage in Tokyo these days. The dish, ramen noodles served with a small bowl of concentrated dipping soup, was invented by Kazuo Yamagishi in Ikebukuro at Taishoken. Stop any Tokyo native on the street and he or she may well steer you to one of the venerated ramen chef’s descendant tsukemen joints; they’re all about town and by far the most popular noodle spots in a city teeming with them. Kyushu may have tonkotsu ramen, Sapporo may have miso, but Tokyo, for better or for worse, is synonymous with gyoukai tsukemen these days, thick, fat udon-like noodles paired with a dip of dual-broth shoyu tonkotsu soup and wafu-dashi dried fish. Stalwarts like Menya Kissou dominate the ramen rankings at Ramen Database, and lines run out the door.
Quite frankly, I’m simply not that fond of the concept. Ramen, to me, has always been about noodles in soup. Perhaps it’s the self-contained nature of the cuisine (everything’s in that one bowl), but the simple fact is that I like a good hot broth. With tsukemen, the concentrated dip is almost never drinkable, it’s overly salty and runs lukewarm by the time you’ve polished off the noodles. Plus there’s the do-it-yourself factor, all those slippery strands and the flung liquid that winds up all over the table. If I wanted to work so hard for my meal, I could go cook my own shabu-shabu from a steaming hot pot.
Enter TETSU, a pint-sized tsukemen outpost in Sendagi, on central Tokyo’s northeastern edge. Perhaps to reconcile its dipping noodle specialty with the preferences of a more traditionalist ramen crowd, the place has taken to one undeniably clever gimmick: tetsu the word means “metal,” and as you’re done slurping, the chef will pass you a pitcher of hot water and a searing hot iron weight roughly the size and shape of a small avocado, superheated robatayaki-style over wood coals. After diluting your excess noodle dip with the hot water, you’ll drop the weight in, whereupon it will sink to the bottom of the bowl in a spectacle of bubbling fizz and fire up the new soup-dip to a temperature bordering on scalding &mdash instant drinkable ramen broth.
This is certainly a great idea, but it wouldn’t make a restaurant. Fortunately, TETSU’s tsukemen is itself rock solid, comprised of thick, slippery noodles, outstanding given the style, and a hearty dip that strikes the proper balance between the dual soups, all meaty, porky shoyu and dried fish aroma. Punch things up further with a spoonful of fried garlic chips. Order the combination, and receive a double portion of noodles for dipping - both the cold, firm strands and hot ones steaming in a boiling infusion of dashi.
If I had to pick a go-to tsukemen in Tokyo, TETSU might well be it. After my meal on one particularly rainy afternoon, one staff member even followed me out the door and handed me an umbrella. “Keep it!” he said. So I had to effectively cook my own food — dip my own noodles and reheat my own soup, but customer service was never so good.
|meaty, porky, with just the right amount of balance between shoyu and dried fish flavor, TETSU's tsukemen dip gains a second life as full-flavored ramen soup with the addition of hot water, and a fiery hot iron weight.||9.5|
|slick, thick, and slippery, these noodles, reminiscent of udon, have the right amount of chew for proper Tokyo-style tsukemen. order the hot & cold combo and you'll be duly rewarded with firm, cold strands and hot noodles in a steaming dashi-scented water, which is just about drinkable on its own.||9.5|
|sunken in any bowl of tsukemen dip will be an obligatory hunk of chashu and perhaps a slice of naruto. TETSU's pork is well-seasoned if not quite revelatory; the real contribution comes in the form of the tableside garlic, which punches up the dip a notch.||9|
|with two portions of noodles for dipping, i didn't need any side dishes.||NA|
|TETSU is a small, stylish ramen shop that sits on a quite street in northeastern Tokyo. there's a nine-seat counter so that's about it in the way of ambiance, but the staff is friendly and maintains a chill vibe.||7|
|TETSU boasts a great gimmick. but don't let that fool you, the tsukemen is as solid as a hunk of metal. did i mention the waiter chased after me with a free umbrella to take home in the rain?||9.5|
11:30am - 3:45pm