DD and I visited New York in December of 2009. He was there for work, I was there to tag along, partially working remotely as well. We also turned the trip into a bar-hopping and salacious dining extravaganza. During our 5 days there, we managed to sample 3 of David Chang’s eateries: Momofuku Ssam Bar, Noodle Bar, and Milk Bar, though I have to admit that the visit to Milk Bar was just a cursory walk-through - we had been lunching at the Ssam Bar next door, and could not pass up a visit to peek at sweets. I don’t much recall what we had at Milk Bar if anything as I was too full from our decadent lunch.
We arrived in Kyoto in the evening, as dusk was just starting to fall. We’d been travelling all day, from Kanazawa in the North, by the Sea of Japan. It was too short a visit, but we wouldn’t be making the same mistake while were in Kyoto – planning a good 5 days in Japan’s ancient erstwhile capital. We didn't have any definitive dining plans, so once settled at Shunkoin Temple, we decided that ramen made for a fast and easy meal option. For many of our food recommendations, we relied on Kyoto Foodie’s blog and headed out to the other side of town in search of Takaraya Ramen on Pontocho, near Gion.
Hideki had pointed out Ichiran from where we met on the Ebisubashi bridge, telling us that it was a pretty good ramen place, possibly the best, in his opinion. So on our last night in Osaka, after drinks in the Umeda Sky Tower at Sky Lounge Stardust, we headed back to the Dotonbori to check it out. It’s along the Dotonbori canal, near the Nihonbashi bridge, which flanks Ebisubashi. Like Ippudo, Ichiran serves a Tonkotsu Hakata-style ramen made with pork broth.
We had perused the archives of Ramen Tokyo most assiduously in preparation for what to expect at a Ramen-ya in Japan. We had read of the interminable lines and of the push-button Nihongo-only ticket pre-ordering with no photos whatsoever. We read of tiny shops with only counter seating, and of patrons who dined solo, heads-down, looking and interacting with no one until their bowl is thus rapidly consumed. We read of instances where couples and friends may not necessarily get to sit next to each other. We read of having to procure your drinks prior to arrival, or at least while waiting in line (usually there is a vending machine or two nearby), of the need to bring a packet of tissues or your hankachi (handkerchief) since no napkins would be provided.
Hassun course at Kikunoi Roan: skewer of miso-marinated avocado, smoked salmon and Tai liver; grilled squid with nori seaweed and egg yolk; fava beans, mountain yam "butterfly;" poached egg-bearing octopus; Tai sushi with Kinome pepper leaf; Yurime lily root petals; Udo stalk petals; ikura.
Indeed, what about the food? The trip was planned after all, in CCDD fashion, around food. It's been absolutely glorious - from the high-end to the low, from street food or market stands to Michelin-starred establishments and smoky izkayas, train station ekiben or small ramen-yas filled with salarymen... we've been eating very, very well.
In Osaka, I think I quite had my fill of takoyaki; DD kept wanting to sample these wherever we went, and we ended up tasting some from 4 different vendors. We also loved sushi fresh from Kuromon market and Endo Sushi in Osaka's Central Wholesale Fish Market, similar to, but not as big as Tsukiji.
While long, the process of getting from Narita to Osaka, I'm happy to report, was quite straightforward and utterly lacking in any sort of stressful near-misses or complications. Essentially we arrived at Narita Airport around 3:10pm, got through customs and immigration and finally made our way down to the train station by 4:45pm. There were so many helpful individuals at Narita, whether it was the information desk clerk in the basement floor of the airport near the train stations, or the JR clerk who exchanged our JR pass vouchers for actual passes, apologized profusely when she found out the next rapid Sobu express to Tokyo was leaving in about 3 minutes (we declined and opted to take the next one arriving in another hour), most helpfully booked us reserved seats on the Hikari Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka-Shin, and gave us exceptionally detailed directions in great English.