Ikemen – Ramen and Tsukemen Vying for Little Tokyo Dominance

30 Jan

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Just when you thought little Little Tokyo could not have any more ramen openings, Hollywood’s Ikemen opens a branch in the very recently shuttered Curry House To Go space. Does this new entrant have anything to say?

Unlike every other Little Tokyo ramen-ya, Ikemen features tsukemen, the concentrated dip ramen that I’ve gone on and on about thanks to West LA’s Tsujita. While, this tiny space has a slightly stripped down version of the original’s menu, you can still get four types of tsukemen (pork or chicken broth), three ramens (including a vegetarian version!), the full list of sides, and a chashu bowl. Not bad.

But we’re here for the tsukemen.

Above is the Ikemen tsukemen – tonkatsu broth, shaved bonito, a couple slices of chashu with some magic fried garlic bits.

Here’s a close-up of the broth. The broth is nice, medium porkiness, not nearly as viscous as Tsujita’s. they serve the shaved bonito on a small plate and slide it into the broth at the table. The bonito is what they are famous for (besides the Japanese hipster douchebag aesthetic), with the owner importing specially prepared dried bonito from Japan and shaved in a device which they say there are only two of in the whole U.S.

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I got a side of the poached egg, which is a really great sous vide runny egg. Really well done, but I’m not sure I love what it does for the broth, making it a bit creamy.

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I’m probably still suffering from Tsujita blowout. I couldn’t help but think of Tsujita with every bite, and this just doesn’t measure up. The broth is not nearly as umami, I think because the Tsujita version has the fish element cooked in for hours while Ikemen just slips it in at the end. The thinness of the broth makes it feel not very different from a regular ramen broth – almost like they took their ramen broth and added cornstarch. It also is a salt bomb. Tsujita’s is also really salty, but it’s such an umami bomb that you almost don’t notice. Here, the prominent flavor might be the salt.

The noodles are good, reportedly from the same provider that supplies Tsujita – nice Q quality. The little garlic bits were kind of the highlight to me – I wish they featured it with a lot more. The chashu was not great. It was thin in a way that reminded me of deli meat. It was probably good quality meat, but they don’t do much to it other than put the garlic on it.

All in all, Ikemen was definitely good. In a world in which Tsujita did not exist, it might even be great. It’s at least in the conversation about which Little Tokyo ramen joint to go to – with Men Oh, Shin Sen Gumi, and Daikokuya (Fooddouche says don’t be an idiot by going to Orochon). I’ll report back after another visit or two, and maybe I’ll be able to judge Ikemen on its own merits.

123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St.,
Los Angeles, CA
(Right next to Marukai)

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