So, for Pepero Day 2011, Alvin and I had lunch at Tsujita LA in Sawtelle, a Japanese enclave less than 2 miles away from Westwood. For the longest time, I had been anticipating this place’s opening. Tsujita LA is the first American branch of a small ramen chain based in Tokyo.
There was already a mid-sized crowd waiting for tables when we arrived for lunch. We quickly filled out our name on the waitlist and went to Giant Robot across the street to kill some time.
The dish to order here is their tsukemen, a slow-simmered broth of pork bones, cartilage and lard, and dipping noodles. According to some sources (ahem..Google), the broth is specially simmered for 60 hours at a separate site before being served.
The restaurant is really classy, making good use of its cramped corner location inside a pretty new plaza (it’s across the street from Volcano Tea House, one of the few legit boba places around UCLA. Although I didn’t take a picture, on the ceiling is a dazzling piece of artwork, thousands of wooden spoons arranged as to form clouds.
The tables are honestly a bit cramped. The buffet of condiments on each table basically took up a third of the table, leaving little room for eating.
I didn’t really care for their char-siu tonkotsu ramen, priced at $12.95, well beyond my budget for ramen. First off, 3 tiny slivers of pork is not enough to win my approval. I don’t think the ramen base could win any accolades in its present form. However, it was truly creamy and rich, with pork bones, cartilage and fat completely melted in. Unbelievable. Saltiness wasn’t a problem either, as it is with a lot of the ramen I eat.
The salmon sashimi rice bowl was decent, in both price and taste. Less than $5, it was generously packed with fresh cuts of salmon that melted in my mouth. I don’t care much for Japanese rice (with fat, sticky grains), but this won’t present a problem to those Japanese foodies.
Finally, the piece de resistance: Tsujita’s tsukemen. Of late, tsukemen has been gaining traction in the States, although it’s mostly confined to the West Coast. I especially love the abundance of ramen joints in LA.
As the instructions on the website point out, the tsukemen is eaten in 3 stages (to bring out different flavors):
- Begin by dipping the noodles into the accompanied soup broth until you have enjoyed around 1/3 of the noodles.
- Then mix into the noodles the black shichimi (black seven flavor chili pepper) and enjoy another 1/3 of the noodles with the soup.
- Finally squeeze lime juice into the noodles and mix well, enjoying the last of the noodles and soup.
In all honesty, we didn’t properly take care in reading the instructions beforehand, so I squeezed the lime onto the noodles at the beginning. It’s just impulse, I suppose. I found it a bit tedious to dip the noodles into the soup broth before eating them (Stage 1), so this was truly a test of patience for me. Especially given that the noodles weren’t so great. Alvin and I both agreed that the worst part of this dish were the noodles: a bit undercooked.
Stage 3, the pouring of the remaining broth into the noodles. My favorite part: immersing myself in the broth and noodles.
The tsukemen broths were unbelievably frothy and creamy. I was left speechless. I might as well have been drinking straight from a cow’s udder. I could really sip this stuff for the rest of my life and not regret a thing.
I’ve never tried the dinner menu (which is too exorbitantly priced for me, anyhow), but the tsukemen gets a big thumbs up. As with most Japanese joints, a typical meal will cost upwards of $20/person.
P.S. I love LA’s vibrant ramen scene.