Nestled In The Warm Embrace of Ramen Kosotto

Nestled In The Warm Embrace of Ramen Kosotto

Kami-Itabashi is the culinary version of an old jacket that always has a forgotten five dollar bill in the pocket.  Each time I wander around its twisting streets I discover something new and delicious — Exquisite tempura, an Iranian Izakaya (well…maybe not sooo delicious, but unique!), world-class yakitori, Vietnamese Pho, gangster bars, exquisite bbq. It also has long been home to my favorite ramen, Tamashii (Soul of Noodle). Well…second favorite now.  Yes, Kami-Itabashi  has revealed a neighborhood challenger: Ramen Kosotto.

From what I gather, New York and the entire east coast has been enveloped in cold and snow.  Makes me happy not to be there.  Tokyo has seen a lovely Fall — crisp and sunny and perfect for a light jacket. With my daughter on the back of my bike, my son and his pal Yagi on theirs, we headed to lunch in Kami-Itabashi.  The original plan was udon in a tiny place we had discovered upon our arrival in Japan.  Their noodles are handmade, their tempura light as air and their clients are seemingly all gay.  We get a few odd looks whenever we dine there.  I strayed from our normal route, wanting to take a look at a shrine I noted on the map.  My son’s friend, while very sweet, is almost comically annoying — he rides his bike as if drunk, constantly bumping into me and nearly killing at least 3 old ladies. Along the way, we were hit with the heady smell of a long simmering ramen broth.  My son perked up.  In front of a small shop we saw a line, 6 or 7 deep: 2 construction workers, a retired couple, a father and daughter.  Good signs when it comes to noodles.  We decided to try.

Ramen Kosotto is run by a woman and her young daughter.  At least that is who was cooking the day I was there.  The daughter, maybe 12, works hard.  Clears dishes, serves the soup, refills the water.  I mentioned to my son that this may be a glimpse into his future if everything goes well for my wife and I. There is a counter seating 6 people and two large tables on an elevated platform.  It seemed to be a nod to family dining which is unusual when it comes to ramen’s typical focus on the solo diner.  There was also a basket of toys (Russian stacking dolls, some books, a puzzle) for children to play with.  My son, as his wont, ordered cha shu ramen and my daughter and I got the regular; Yagi probably got something irritating which I instantly blanked.  The bowl arrived steaming hot, the tawny broth thick and opaque dotted with green onion, bamboo shoots, a lovely looking egg and three different slices of meat (cha-shu, seared pork belly and chicken breast).  Tonkotsu ramen, thick with pork fat, is the rage in Tokyo these days.  Like many people, I totally dig it, but sometimes that slurry of pork-fat can be too much for me — I can feel the broth heading right to my heart valves, slowly constricting my blood flow.  Ramen Kosotto’s broth is all chicken with the addition of some beef tallow.  It is rich, buttery and layered with flavor — I could hear Ricardo Montalban in my head purring…”Rich, Cornithian Leather…” as I supped a spoonful.  It was surprisingly light however. I didn’t get that feeling of concrete in my arteries while eating.  The 3 meats were unusual, but they added character, imparting a range of flavors (including a smokiness to the pork belly) and textures as you make your way through the bowl.  The noodles are springy and alive, helping to deliver the broth as they are slurped.  The balance of ingredients to broth was near perfect — as I finished my last noodle there was just a sip or two of that lovely broth left.

I fear  I may be revealing some old-fashioned gender bias that lurks within me by saying there is something decidedly maternal about Raman Kossoto’s soup.  It’s not a stretch to say that most ramen is the opposite of maternal —  both the restaurants and the dish are created for solo diners, short on time, very hungry and, I suspect, stereotypically male in design.   Flavor-wise, there is always a bit of aggression to ramen, something forceful, slightly bombastic.  Kossoto is different.  It is as if that same spirit that went into the baskets of toys and thoughtfulness of larger tables, touched the very molecules of the soup — a  harmony, a gentleness, a nurturing embrace rather than a bonk on the head, or stomach as it may be.  If I am to be honest, I had hit a kind of plateau with ramen over the last months…I just wasn’t lusting for it, and when I had it — even at my favorite places — it wasn’t exciting me.  I kind of worried that my ramen palette had gone numb.  Well, Kossoto proved me wrong. It is a bowl that I keep lingering on about, relishing certain details, pondering my next visit (my son actually beat me to this, travelling alone to fulfill his desires).  Once again Kami-Itabashi to the rescue.

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