Let’s face it, nobody likes to drive to LA. Not even the people who reside in LA like to drive within the city. But sometimes, just sometimes, there are places that make the traffic worthwhile. With thousands of restaurants to choose from in the greater LA area, it only made sense to start somewhere that has been proven time and time again to completely satisfy the palates of not only LA’s biggest foodies and natives, but critics as well. And being a huge fan of Asian cuisine (the stereotype sticks with this one), we started with well-known street food: Ramen.
Tsukemen (prounounced TSKEH – men) ramen is a style of ramen in which a hot, reduced broth, tonkotsu (pork bone) in this case, is served along side cool noodles in a separate bowl. This was fortunate for us as we went on a Winter day where temperatures hit a nice and mild 88 degrees and were sweating just walking to the venue. Great idea!
Tsujita LA Artisan Noodle is a small restaurant located on the corner of Sawtelle Boulevard and Mississippi, only seating around 20-25 to fill to capacity. Luckily for my photographer (Antonio Espino) and I, Wednesday afternoon at 2:30PM is not the most ideal time for tsukemen ramen cravings to coincide (I have heard horror stories about the wait). Service is fast-paced, even before you sit down, and can be intimidating to the inexperienced and anxious. While waiting, a server not only notified us that we would be seated shortly but also stated that if we already knew what we wanted, that he would have our order placed so that the food arrived once we sat down. This must be the kind of pressure the president of the USA must face on a daily basis. Luckily, the menu is small with a few choices with the largest portion of the menu being directions on how to eat tsukemen ramen (no follow-up test, thank goodness).
After being seated, we ordered quickly while discreetly looking around to get an idea of how to eat this beautiful noodle dish so that we could look like we had the slightest idea of what we were doing. You know, that whole, “Fake it ‘till you make it,” thing.
As we unified ourselves with the loud, Japanese call-and-response between the servers and the chefs, as well as the perpetual slurping of noodles surrounding us, the moment had arrived for us to be initiated into the world of tsukemen ramen.
At first glance, everything seems normal, except for the fact that the ramen is deconstructed. The “Go big or go home” mentality was implemented in full force as we had both ordered the “Char Siu (barbecued pork) Tsukemen.” The bowl containing the tonkotsu broth, which is reduced for over 48 hours, consists of chopped up pork, a seasoned soft boiled egg (I ordered an extra egg because… I am an adult), green onions, and menma (bamboo shoots). The second bowl consists of the medium hardness noodles, which are in between traditional ramen noodles and udon noodles in size and consistency, four generous pork slices, nori (seaweed) and a lime. Now, this is where it gets important that you read the directions on the menu. Rather than prematurely asking where the nearest margarita bar is, the lime is meant to be squeezed over the noodles after eating a third of the portion to add some acidity as well as more flavor to the broth as it intensifies. Highly recommended.
Within the first bite, we were immediately hooked. As you dip a good amount of noodles into the soup, the warm, thick broth coats the noodles beautifully and instantly gives a full mouthfeel. While alternating bites between the seasoned egg and the pork slices that melt in your mouth, the flavor and intensity will have you promptly reaching back for another helping of noodles. As the combination got more intense, the magic of the lime was used to commence a second wind. This helped introduce some more acidity that was needed toward the end.
It was not long before we were sitting silently with broth all over our faces, empty bowls in front us while staring off into space in a numb fashion while trying to find a comfortable sitting position with our incredibly full stomachs. It was the look of defeat but not regret. As the food was settling in, we slowly waddled out of the front door to take an incredibly long 50-foot walk… to get dessert. After all, we DO live in America, right?
Known for their true milk soft serve and generous amounts of honey drizzled over the top, as well as folded into the ice cream, Honey Mee was a great choice to cool down a bit while still diving into our indulgent side. A very small menu made it incredibly easy to choose from and the venue has some great outside seating to make for some people-watching.
Finally filled to the brim, it was time walk it all off and to end our day as tourists at 3rd Street Promenade. Shopping and entertainment ensued, all until the sun came up over Santa Monica Blvd. Cheers to you, Sheryl Crow.