June 26, 2013

The Ramen Shaman: Tsujita Annex (LA)

by Will VanderWyden

I’ve written plenty about Tsujita. It is easily the best ramen shop in LA (both their hakata-style tonkotsu and tsukemen dipping ramen) and is, in my opinion, the best shop in America.

But since opening in the fall of 2011 there has been one glaring flaw — they only serve ramen at lunchtime. Last call is 2pm. I work during the day so my only opportunity to eat there is on weekends, when there is often a wait exceeding an hour.

But last month they opened the Tsujita Annex across the street to serve ramen all day long. My reaction? Yesssssssssss!

Problem is my New York and Japan trips got in the way (yeah, terrible problem I know). So last weekend was my first crack at the Annex. I went twice in two days.

I thought the Annex was going to serve the same bowl as the original Tsujita, only all day long. It does not. A glance at the menu told me something was up — no negi (green onion) to speak of, and the toppings piled up over the rim of the bowl a bit. Hm, interesting.

Inside the shop notices were posted explaining their inspiration.

Some time ago, we dined at a very popular and well-established ramen noodle restaurant in Tokyo. We had a delightful culinary experience there. The ramen dishes inspired us to create heavenly new ramen noodle dishes for Tsujita Annex. We want to share these scrumptious creations with our Los Angeles patrons.

I was just in Tokyo two weeks ago, so I figured I of all people would probably be aware of this ‘popular and well-established’ shop. A popular shop… toppings piled high… could it be?

I asked my server.

“This shop mentioned here… which one is it?”

“Ah, it is called Jiro.”

I knew it! Incredible. I’ve long told friends that if anyone opened up a true Jiro-style shop in America they’d make a killing. I thought about being the first. That’s a pipe dream now.

I’ve written about Jiro before. Last year I went to Senrigan, a Jiro-kei (Jiro-style) shop in western Tokyo. It was awesome. Jiro and its bretheren are almost like the essence of ramen magnified, intensified, and then turned up to 11. Read this for a full explanation. Basically Jiro ramen is big, burly, brawny, and dominated by male patrons. Diners are advised to eat an Asian pear for lunch before a Jiro visit. That’s it! When you eat Jiro you know it’s gonna ooze out of your pores the next day.

I was pumped. Jiro-kei ramen in Los Angeles. Finally.

I sipped the broth. I tucked into the noodles. It was good. There was just one problem.

Tsujita isn’t really Jiro-kei.

This is Jiro-kei.

Actually I lied. This is not Jiro-style. It’s Jiro! I went there almost exactly one week before my Tsujita Annex visit. Look at that heap of veggies, that pile of garlic, and those raw hunks of chashu. The broth was intense, just a big salty, garlicky mess, yet it was great. I ate it at 2am after a night of drinking and an hour’s ride across Tokyo, in the biggest red light district in the city. There wasn’t a single female in sight.

That is what Jiro ramen is all about. No no, I’m not sexist or anything… but I think you get the point. Jiro is like wings-and-beer ramen. It’s the ramen equivalent of those guys who make lasagna out of cheeseburgers on the internet.

Tsujita Annex is like dressing me up in a yukata and calling me a samurai. It’s just not the same.

It’s good, don’t get me wrong. Thankfully the familiar Tsujita flavor is still in the broth, only it’s somehow thinner than the original Tsujita. I think they use a soy sauce base for this one instead of pure pork tonkatsu. The missing pork oomph is replaced by bits of pure fat in the broth at Annex. Yes, pure fat. Kotteri (rich). But the fat is only on the surface, making me think it’s added after the broth is finished.

But the noodles. Damn. Best noodles I’ve ever had here in the States. Thick and chewy and perfectly cooked, each strand is like a carbohydrate steak.

I’ve met many people in Japan who are strictly either a ‘thin’ or ‘thick’ noodle lover. I’ve never had a preference, but this might sway me. Every bite, loaded with soup, was pure awesomeness.

Gone are the jars of pickled ginger and pureed garlic — in its place is this “Onikasu” (literally meaning the “devil’s scum”) and a jar of chopped garlic. I recommend only a little scum. It’s not too hot but it changes the whole bowl pretty quickly.

And the end of the day this is just a nice bowl of ramen with a little bit of fat in the broth and a small mound of veggies. The decor is modern and soothing and patrons chat softly while they eat. My dining companions might disagree, but neither time did I walk out the door feeling like I had just been assaulted by some unknown force of nature, which I’ve come to expect with Jiro-kei noodles.

It’s a great bowl of ramen. I appreciate the stylistic attempt. It’s still one of the best bowls you’ll find in LA, and beyond the Stateline.

But I prefer the original Tsujita.

TSUJITA ANNEX
2050 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
T: 310. 231.0222

4 Comments

  • Yoko
    Posted June 27, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Will – This is a great review. I can tell you are really in the ramen zone, especially after your trip to Japan last month. I did not know much about Jiro-kei until you started posting about it. We couldn’t eat ramen at Tsujita for the exact reason that you mention (we showed up at night) so I am excited to have the option of going to this place if we end up in that neighborhood later in the day.

  • Will
    Posted June 28, 2013 at 3:58 am

    Thanks Yoko! We will definitely crush some Tsujita next week. Bring a pear.

  • Posted July 7, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Will – Great review on the Annex. I think on the basis of their Chasu, fresh garlic, and topping selection alone, Tsujita is the best ramen on the westside of L.A. However – I’m in the small noodle camp, and I just can’t get down with those carbohydrate steak noodles. I like them thinner, and for that reason, spicy miso toroniku at Mitsuwa marketplace is my usual bowl. Tsujita is also a little pricy for ramen.

    The ramen scene on Sawtelle is heating up with Daikokuya taking over Jinya’s old space a little further south.

    Enjoyed reading!

  • Mehkko
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I haven’t had the original, but Cambridge has a fantastic Jiro place, which doesn’t have an actual website, but its Yelp is here http://www.yelp.com/biz/yume-wo-katare-cambridge

    Afterwards, you feel like you’ve been assaulted, but holy shit, that bowl knocks my socks off. So if you’re in Boston for some crazy reason, it’s probably the only ramen place worth checking out…decent Japanese food is scarce here.

One Trackback

  • By yoshida brothers | a trip takes us... on October 26, 2013 at 3:00 am

    […] spice and the fresh garlic added from a jar adds to the funky taste. The story is best told by the Ramen Shaman. The noodles are thick and perfectly chewy. As good as this is, it’s not my favorite […]

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