2057 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
11172 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
Dining date: 1/16/12
I first tried Tsujita over the Veteran’s Day holiday. Trying to fit two lunch spots into one larger meal, Tsujita happened to fall into the second slot where a humongous line awaited us. Sadly, the tsukemen (dipping ramen) ran out while we waited in line, and we were left with the good-but-not-great ramen. I knew I’d have to return to really try Tsujita. Over the MLK holiday we again went for a two-spot luncher, with Tsujita first this time. We arrived at 11am (opening) to ensure we would not be denied. Perfect timing! We got in without any problems.
Three tsukemen options are available – “regular,” one with extra seasoned boiled egg (ajitama tsukemen) and one with extra chashu (chashu tsukemen). Coincidentally, we all ordered the same thing – the chashu. A few accompaniments awaited us at the table – in my opinion, I didn’t think they were even necessary.
I marveled at the bowl that came out – noodles were topped with thick-cut chashu, a piece of nori and a lime wedge. Accompanying the noodles was a dark and murky broth, filled with a soft-boiled egg, pieces of chashu and a not-so-hidden layer of fat floating on the top.
I had my first bite and was sold immediately. The noodles were thicker than usual with a wonderful chew, while the broth displayed a heady, rich porky and bonito flavor. It was well-balanced between the pork and fish, and I’m sure the fat helped made for an incredibly savory and comforting slurp that screamed umami. Apparently, pork bones are simmered for 60 hours with the bonito added at the end. The chashu was wonderful as well, thick and meaty – they just melted when heated by the hot broth (it should be eaten quickly since the fat will congeal if sitting out too long and the broth won’t be hot enough to melt it). Simply addicting.
The soup thickened and got richer over time as the noodles soaked up the liquid. By the time the noodles were gone, it was pretty much a gravy at that point. The lime was particularly clutch when it reached this consistency, helping to add a fresh citrus dimension as well as some acidity. Finally, they’ll add water to your leftover “gravy” for a drinkable soup – it wasn’t quite so much for me, still packing an incredible salty, porky punch. Personally, it needed to be consumed in small quantities per mouthful.
After some deliberation, we made the short trip to Ramen Yamadaya. We’d be ordering entirely different things, but we were still somewhat fearful that it would disappoint given what we had at Tsujita.
Ramen Yamadaya is a newer ramen restaurant to the SoCal scene, opening its first branch in Torrance in 2010. I’ve consistently heard good things about it, and its popularity has helped them already open up additional locations in Culver City, Westwood and Costa Mesa. The specialty here is the 20-hour-cooked tonkotsu broth, making for a rich and porky ramen.
It was my first time so I opted for the ramen. The rest of the party ordered some different items, less similar to what we previously ate at Tsujita.
Ramen Yamadaya tonkotsu kotteri
I tried a small piece of the gyoza and chicken and found them to be rather typical variations. I wanted slightly more meat and less cabbage flavor in the gyoza, and I thought they could’ve been crispier too. However, the star for me was the ramen. Going for the extra-fatty kotteri option, the broth indeed was rather heavy, milky and fatty. Full of flavor, indeed. The fresh garlic was an awesome accompaniment, providing a fun garlicky bite to the rich broth. The noodles were perfectly cooked, lending a nice chew and soaking up the flavors of the broth. Two kinds of chashu came with it – a leaner, thinner cut shoulder and a thicker, marinated belly cut. I didn’t really like either. The shoulder was a little dry and flavorless, while the belly’s marinade had an overpowering flavor that masked the meat. Still, a very good bowl of ramen.
Ramen Yamadaya is good, and is worthy of a return trip on an emptier belly. Still, I’d be hard pressed to come here unless Tsujita is closed or out of tsukemen. I’ve never had tsukemen before and it was a bit of a game changer for me. I can’t say if it was a good example of the dish, but I just found it simply delicious. At this point, I actually prefer it over any of the bowls of more “typical ramen” in LA. There’s an inherent playfulness in dipping the noodles into the soup at-will, and I found myself conflicted between slurping everything up as soon as possible while it was hot, and consciously slowing myself down to savor every bite. I’ll be back for sure.