About Traveling Foodie a.k.a DrFoodie

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I am a clinical veterinarian in New England.  I absolutely love to travel and experience new cultures, mainly through cuisine. My reviews cover a multitude of different food & cocktail related events from food trucks to philanthropic food-related events and festivals. I like to think of myself as: Veterinarian by day Foodie by night! This blog was launched October 2011. I'm a huge advocate of the nose-to-tail movement and an avid enthusiast of prohibition era and craft cocktails! Sit back and enjoy...I hope this blog encourages you to try something new like book a ticket, pack a bag, and eat to your heart's desire in a new place! How I'd describe myself in a few words/phrases: Food+Travel Blogger, Freelance Food Writer (Past regular contributor on The Bay State Banner newspaper's blog Turn It Up Boston dot com), Jersey Girl (born and raised), Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc Woman, Veterinarian, Surgery Lover,Travel Addict, Devoted Gourmand, Proud 2 time Tuskegee University Graduate, Social Butterfly, Girly Dress Hoarder, Stiletto Addict, Classic Cocktail Enthusiast "Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO ― Bill McKenna

Featured Post

DrFoodie Goes Solo in Tokyo Part One: Ramen Rampage, Umami Madness-Hopping Around to Tokyo's Most Beloved Ramen Ya

  Me in front of Fuuji in Shinjuku While we didn't all speak English, we spoke food and wine and booze and culture and h...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

At The Pass with Josephine Oliviero Megwa, Owner/Menu Influencer of Piattini Wine Cafe, 226 Newbury Street Boston, MA

Repost in support of Piattini after the recent building fire...

Originally posted 10/23/2013

I recently attended a small Wine Dinner hosted by Piattini and enjoyed myself immensely.  I will also be attending the next wine dinner featuring "Wines of the World".
 I was so impressed with Owner Josephine Oliviero Megwa, that I wanted to immediately add her to my At The Pass Series.

Tuna tartare

We sat in the beautiful private dining area and chatted like old friends catching up.  Josephine is very down to earth and open.  We discussed family, careers, food, wine, cheese, and life in general. 

As we chat over lunch/dinner, her beautiful staff carried in plate after plate of terrific food and a bottle of Piattini's own Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  They will soon sell their own Chianti Classico and Pinot Grigio!  The Chianti will be DOC ( Denominazione di Origine Controllata) - Italy's strict regulatory body over the origin and authenticity of regional products).  The Chianti grapes grow in a valley where the soil (or terroir) is unique to the Chianti region (Classico subregion) and gives the grapes their distinct flavor, acidity, and color. 
Piattini has been bottling their own wine since 2004!

Piattini's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is 100% Montepulciano grapes and sourced from a small producer in the region.
 Regulations require a minimum of 85% Montepulciano with up to 15% of Sangiovese.  It is medium-bodied, deep burgundy, fruit-forward (without being sweet), with aromas of dried cherry and a hint of baking spices.

In keeping with providing personalized, quality products to their clientele, Piattini will launch their own Partana organic olive oil sourced from a Sicilian producer. 
 Expect to see Piatini EVOO next summer!





Photo credit:  Yelp
 Several wine flights are offered daily for your tasting pleasure.



Josephine is the youngest of 10 children (the only one born in the U.S.) and her childhood nickname, she was one of 10 children, was "Piattini", meaning small plates.  Her mother gave her the moniker because she would eat the Antipasto, Primo, Contorno portions of the home-cooked meals prepared by Mrs. Oliviero and skip the secondi.  It was fitting that Josephine named her wine cafe (one of the 9 other family restaurants) in honor of her nickname, as her dream was to serve small plates, wine, and coffee in a little shop.  
Well, 12 years later, Piattini has met and exceeded her expectations!

With a previous life in fashion/retail, at the forefront of what Josephine delivers is beauty and style, from the terracotta and copper tones in the space to the presentation and quality of the food!  The pasta is handmade in-house, the sauces authentic and full of flavor, the salads fresh and bright, and the wine and cheese selection lovely.


Chef at Piattini making housemade pasta


When I inquired about whether there was a particular region of Italy that guides the recipes at Piattini, Josephine informed me that the style of food has several regional and provincial influences with a heavy Central and Southern Italian influence (e.g. Umbria, Veneto, Abruzzo, Campania, etc.)   

The food is the epitome of traditional Italian - simple, high quality ingredients with beautiful results while avoiding elaborate, complicated preparation and presentation in lieu of taste.

We started with a grilled Italian flatbread sandwich I'd never had before - a Piadini.  In Italy, the griddled bread is made with lard.  Unfortunately, this isn't the case in the States, Josephine shares.  

She ordered the veggie piadini (Vegetario) made with zucchini, summer squash, red peppers, Portabello mushroom, and smoke mozzarella.  
I ordered the Manzo piadini.  The soft, chewy bread was filled with juicy, shaved steak, meaty mushrooms, sweet caramelized onion, sharp, melty bleu cheese, and peppery arugula.

The Manzo Piadini

Vegetario Piadini

The Artisinal cheese selection is extensive.  There are 10-12 cheeses rotated at any given time.  A "cheese card" is provided to guests for their selection and a slot is available for entry of the day's special.

We sampled three beautiful cheeses served with house made fig jam, olives, and Iggy's bread:

The Piave, a cow's milk cheese, named after the river Piave in Veneto, Italy.  It is a hard, yellow, with a full-bodied, intense nutty flavor.  Its flavor is known to intensify with age.

The Robiola, a soft cheese made from a unique blend of cow, sheep, and goat's milk.  It can be served fresh (as it is at Piattini) or aged.  It was smooth and creamy with a rich, milky finish.  The Robiola was beautiful when spread on a piece of Iggy's bread with fig jam!

The Sardinian Gold, the night's special is aged 9 months.  It is a hard, aged cheese with a sharp toffee notes. Very beautiful, really rich with moderate sharpness.

The handmade pasta doesn't end at the fettucine!  I thouroughly enjoyed a beautifully dense ravioli dish (Vitello ravioli sage) filled with flavorful, tender ground veal topped with fresh mushrooms and sage bathed in a perfectly thick Marsala wine sauce.

Vitello ravioli sage

The homemade meatballs were filling - not your typical mushy mess - the meatballs at Piattini have bite, are full of substance and flavor.  They are served with a chunky tomato sauce and shredded Parmesan cheese.

Homemade meatballs
 
Ravioli di Zucca Gialla
Photo credit: TableCritic

The Ravioli di Zucca Gialla is a fan favorite at Piattini.  It features tender, sweet butternut squash raviolis in an apple cider, brown sugar, and sage.   
Josephine shared that when they have attempted to remove the dish from the menu for seasonal purposes, most customers were disappointed.  It is now a year round offering.


 The Pollo al Mattone ("chicken cooked under a brick") is prepared using a Statler (bone in breast + wing) chicken breast and it was stellar.  A Springer Mountain Farms free range chicken breast is cooked in its own juices (au jus) and settled over creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach.

Finally, I sampled a lovely seafood entree of seared scallops over a bed of tender butternut squash and sauteed spinach.


For dessert, I was offered, the gluten-free chocolate brownie, served warm with a creamy, rich pumpkin gelato.  I tend to shy away from gluten-free desserts as they often have a strange, crumbly texture.  The gluten-free brownie at Piattini was moist, rich, chocolatey goodness and who wouldn't love a pumpkin gelato!?!

 Josephine and I spoke for hours over phenomenal food and wine/spirits.  It was only days later that I followed up with general questions that are typically part of my chef/owner/industry personnel interviews.  We had such a fabulous time together!

In addition to sharing about the ins and outs of the history and soul behind Piattini, Josephine also share a few fun facts.

The "strangest" thing in the Megwa household's kitchen is Coniglio which is rabbit meat.  I always enjoy asking food industry people this specific question because I usually adore or would love to try the product!  I will certainly try anything...twice!  I fell in love with the tender, dark, juicy meat of rabbit many years ago and along with the family's canned/jarred veggie and herb preserves, I'd dine at their table any day!

I think I may have met my match as far as another person loving NYC as much as I do!  Growing up just one half hour or so outside of Manhattan, "The City" was my absolute first love!  It is and continues to be a part of my soul.  Josephine has a love for one of the premiere local products out of NYC...bagels and other fresh baked goods.  Amongst her favorite places to eat in the United States is Del Posto and Babbo!  This lady knows where to go for good eats you can trust for consistency and agrees there are MANY good places to eat in the city!  

I am personally always interested in knowing what REAL food industry people feel about the food truck movement - those who's opinions about the proverbial "Bricks and Mortar vs. Food Truck" phenomenon which advertisement hungry organizations try to manipulate into a real "battle" truly matter.  I have been pleased over the past year to discover that people who own quality bricks and mortar properties, those who are excited about local Bostonians or people in any city where they are located in the country/world are able to learn about an authentic, novel cuisine are excited about food trucks and their accessibility.  Josephine has joined numerous significant industry masters in her enthusiasm for the masses experiencing "interesting food" and she is " thrilled about the food trucks in our city!"

I anticipated a terrific answer about her desired "last meal on earth".  Josephine's answer spoke volumes about the inspiration behind her entire family's culinary success and the passion behind the work:
" My wish for my last meal would be to have my mother make my favorite dish -stuffed zucchini blossoms with potatoes and string beans...YUM!"

Dining at Piattini is an absolute must-do for all!
Have you dined at Piattini?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Disclosure:  The majority of the meal in this review were provided at no cost by Piattini.  My views are my own.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Celebrity Chef Series at BCAE (Boston Center for Adult Education)

Hi guys! I know I've been MIA since Tokyo, but there are many, many more chef interviews, food/booze coverage and photos, and interviews to come very soon!  

In the meantime, check this out:

Celebrity Chef Classes

The Boston Center for Adult Education Announces New Lineup of Celebrity Chef Instructors

WHAT:            This May and June 2016, the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) is once again offering Bostonians an exclusive opportunity to mingle and cook with some of the area’s top chefs as part of its ongoing celebrity chefs cooking series. Students will learn the craft of cooking in hands-on classes taught by local celebrity chefs including:
Dan Bazzinotti from Bisq Restaurant
Carl Dooley from The Table
Brendan Pelley from Pelekasis at Wink & Nod
 Mike Lombardi and Kevin O’Donnell of SRV
Alex Falconer of Josephine
                                         Josh Lewin from Juliet

All of the chefs will emerge from their renowned kitchens and into the BCAE’s state-of-the-art kitchen facilities for a one session interactive cooking class. Under the guidance of these top chefs, students will learn how to create the perfect dishes for all their spring get-togethers! These delicious classes will leave everyone wanting more.

Reserve seats now; space is limited! To register, or for more information please visitwww.bcae.org

WHERE:         Boston Center for Adult Education, 122 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116.

WHEN:            May-June 2016

COST:              $70 for Non-Members, $60 Members, and $15 material cost

RSVP:             Registration is necessary. Please visit www.bcae.org or call the Boston Center for Adult Education at 617-267-4430 to sign up.
Class Schedule:

                        Monday, May 2nd from 6:00PM-9:00PM
                        $70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

                        Contemporary French Cuisine with Carl Dooley of The Table
                        Monday, May 9th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
                        $70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

                        A Modern Greek Menu with Brendan Pelley of Pelekasis
                        Monday, May 16th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
                        $70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

                        Monday, June 6th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
                        $70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15
                       
                        Casual Chic Parisian-Style with Alex Falconer of Josephine
                        Monday, June 13th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
                        $70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

                        Simple but Special with Josh Lewis of Juliet
                        Monday, June 20th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
                        $70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

                       
About the Boston Center for Adult Education:

Founded in 1933, the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) is the first, nonprofit adult education center in New England. The Boston Center for Adult Education serves as a meeting place for the Boston community to gather, learn, discuss and create. The BCAE offers educational classes taught by well-qualified leaders, staff, and volunteers who share the mission of enhancing our community. Today the BCAE offers classes for almost every interest. Students can experience everything from yoga, photography, belly dancing, and stand-up comedy, to scotch tasting, cooking, achieving financial freedom, and much more. At their recently renovated headquarters on Arlington Street (Boston, MA) you'll find professional grade kitchens, top-notch technology, versatile classroom space and free Wi-fi. The BCAE offers a variety of personal and corporate membership levels with benefits including discounted tuition costs and discounts on local retailers. Browse classes, become a member, or support the BCAE online at bcae.org. The BCAE is located at 122 Arlington Street, Boston MA 02116. The BCAE administrative offices are open Monday- Friday 9:00 AM-5:00 PM. The Student Services office is open Monday-Thursday, 9:00 AM-7:00 PM and Friday 9:00 AM-5:00 PM. The BCAE is open on weekends during class times only.

Thank you Image Unlimited for the information in this post! 
 Classes at BCAE are always a blast!

Monday, February 1, 2016

DrFoodie Goes Solo in Tokyo Part Two: Booze in a Beautiful Bar, Bar Benfiddich バー ベンフィディック with Hiroyasu Kayama and Takeshi Matsuzawa

You'll miss a lot if you never look up while walking the streets of NYC. 
I feel I've seen all of the oldies but goodies having grown up not far outside of the city, but of course there's always something popping up.
However, I can't help but feel it's such a rookie/tourist move and can be quite annoying to those of us who've seen these things one million times and have places to be. 
I say this in the least off-putting and unpretentious manner possible #BecauseTokyo...
 
I became one of those "looker-upers" while visiting Tokyo on a solo visit for Birthday #36.
My first night out in the bustling, stacked, brightly lit city, I learned that the bar or restaurant you may be searching for could very well be on the 9th floor of a building-possibly just between an eye doctor and a karaoke studio.
 
On my second visit to
Bar Benfiddich バー ベンフィディック, even my uber driver missed it.
Thank goodness I have somewhat of a photographic memory!
 

Bar Benfiddich バー ベンフィディック was atop this building on the 9th floor. Traveling on the elevator there is reminiscent of heading to a doctor's appointment.
 
 

Building directory near the elevator.
 

Photo Credit: Hiroyasu Kayama/Bar Benfiddich Facebook Page
 
Travel to the 9th floor and enter the door to the left. The untreated wood and low seating is reminiscent of a classic, rustic dry sauna. 
Geometrically simple furniture allows for nestling in a dark corner with either friends or a lover or sitting at the bar to watch the magic happen.

You can find out how I discovered this hidden overproof oasis by reading the first installment of this 3 part installment:
 

Bar Benfiddich is not a place where you go to slam sloppy sips. 
You come here to intellectualize the art of making a cocktail. Fresh/dried herbs and other plant life dot the back bar.



A mortar and pestle makes an appearance about every 3rd drink ordered by patrons.
Heavy, iron tea kettles boast strong brews and some cocktails look like little aquariums filled with gin in lieu of water.



The lead barman (Hiroyasu Kayama) and his apprentice (Takeshi Matsuzawa), both dapper in their dress will somehow overcome the language barrier and treat you as a guest in their home. 
There's a comfort level in the space that dashes any uncertainty if you're not fluent in Japanese.
Hiroyasu and Takeshi are more than fluent in hospitality, warmth, kindness, and dedicated service to ensure you have one of the best times and experiences of your life.
 

Hiroyasu Kayama



Takeshi Matsuzawa
 
As any great bartender, Hiroyasu was sure to learn my favorite flavor profiles and followed suite, even exceeding beyond my imagination.
 
On my first visit, he served a couple of bourbon+amaro drinks...my favorite combination (especially when a new artist is making me a cocktail).
 
On my second visit, he discovered my love of Campari (and all things Amaro) and proceeded to make his own Campari from dried herbs on the bar (some of which came from his own garden).
 
The result?
A spectacularly bitter cocktail made even more special by watching the deliberation and execution of its base herb, fresh grapefruit, simple syrup, etc.

My only mistake was thinking I could handle tasting dried gentian root at the behest of Hiroyasu.
Now...I am a bonafide, hardcore bitters lover and when I request a cocktail be made by a bartender who doesn't know me, the more bitter, the better, but this root took me to a place from which I've yet to recover! 
Even typing it in this moment takes me to a scary place.
However, the cocktail was perfectly balanced-bitter, a hint of sweetness, nice acidity.


 

He also made this little bitter cordial with the aforementioned root, concentrated and blended with a more dark rockfruit-forward amaro and Absinthe.
 
 
 

A lovely "tea' was brewed for another patron during my final visit to Bar Benfiddich (my birthday evening). 

Ironically, one of the gentlemen had just returned home from Boston and spoke fairly good English. He acted as a translator between myself and Hiroyasu.


Also expect to be impressed with vintage bottles of aperitifs, digestifs, and spirits.

Here are two beautifully rugged bottles of Fernet-Branca procured from a subterranean European space:


Hiroyasu showed presented a lovely bottle of vintage Absinthe. This particular bottle was bottled/created by Suntory Beverage company, a Japanese based distiller who also produces some of the best Japanese whisky. Most of us are aware that the Japanese are major players in whisky consumption and the spike in its production starting in the 1920s (see my article covering the history of Japanese whisky, here).


Hiroyasu shared that Absinthe was highly produced in Japan several decades ago.

Hiroyasu has also created his own bottle of Absinthe from herbs in his personal garden based on a recipe printed in the "Nouveau traité de la fabrication des liqueurs"

 
Rough Translation:
New Treaty of the manufacture of liquors according to the latest processes, J. Fritsch, engineer-chemist."


(French and foreign liquors. Essences. Waters and scented spirits. Syrups. Aperitifs. Bitters. Absinthes. Vermouth. Liqueur wines. Fruits in brandy. Spirituous fruit juices. Preserved spirits, etc.)


Hiroyasu with his bottle of Absinthe
   
To my great surprise, it was coming up on last call, a small group of friends walk in and sit at a benched table adjacent to the bar and I'd just asked Hiroyasu where he gets his favorite bowl of Tsukemen.
 
After serving the table, he took off his tuxedo jacket and silk tie and led me through the streets about 6-7 blocks away to Yasube.

He ordered a bowl for me at the vending machine, wished me a happy birthday and returned to his bar to tend to his guests. It was one of the best, most sincere gifts I've ever received!
 
When in search of a cocktail bar in Tokyo, please make your way to Bar Benfiddich!
I promise, you won't be disappointed!

Photo Credit

 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

DrFoodie Goes Solo in Tokyo Part One: Ramen Rampage, Umami Madness-Hopping Around to Tokyo's Most Beloved Ramen Ya




Me in front of Fuuji in Shinjuku

While we didn't all speak English, we spoke food and wine and booze and culture and hospitality.
Funny thing is, I've learned that these are universal languages, no matter the country or continent.


These are the languages of passion, of community, of delights and joy.
  The sign behind me in the picture above translates to

"The Lucky Traveler" and I am lucky indeed!

Me sipping on a Yoichi Single Malt Japanese Whisky on the balcony of the condo I rented during my stay in Shibuya

When people ask why I love ramen so much, I typically go into a rambling oration about how diverse and delicious it is and can be.  There are so many styles and types of ramen soups from their aromatic soup bases to the noodle shape and diameter, to the way in which you consume it (e.g. Tsukemen where you dip the noodles into a thick broth).
You can check out most of the ramen I've enjoyed (or not) over the past 12 months...from Paris to Miami to NYC to Tokyo, here
 
Ramen is historically Chinese in origin.  Over 100 years ago, post-war Chinese immigrants moved into Japan.  They brought over their, mainly Shoyu-style of ramen.
A bowl of ramen is made up of 4 parts: the broth (a few types discussed below), the Noodle (briefly discussed below), tare, and toppings.

Totto Ramen Boston
 
 
In its simplest form, there are four styles of ramen but dozens of regional specialties.
The tare or kaeshi is the flavor bomb placed at the bottom of your bowl who's composition basically determines the style of ramen you are about to enjoy.
 
1. Shio (Salt-based)
2. Shoyu (Soy sauce-based)
3. Miso (Fermented soy bean based)
4. Tonkotsu (pork bone soup-based)
 
My primary goal for this trip to Tokyo was to eat all of the notable ramen I possibly could and there are literally thousands of shops in Tokyo alone!
 
I reached out to Ramen Expert and TV Personality in Tokyo Brian MacDuckston of Ramen Adventures
What makes him an expert you ask? 
He has sampled & reviewed over 2000 bowls around Japan and a few in the U.S, with the vast number in Tokyo of course.

Check out his blog.
It AND his ramen tour is a must when visiting Tokyo! 
He also has a book available on Amazon in both English and Japanese.
 
Brian is a San Francisco native, an American expat, having lived in Tokyo for 9 years after planning only a one year visit to teach English. 
He speaks fluent Japanese and is celebrated throughout the ramen world in both Tokyo and at Toranoana in Osaka where he teaches an extensive one day ramen course. Students learn to prepare the soup and also hand-make noodles. 
 
Brian's work and knowledge has been featured on Ramen 道(a weekly TV show on TBS in Japan), News Room Tokyo, Food and Wine (Where to Eat in Tokyo), Newsweek Japan, Travel & LeisureThe New York Times (Frugal Traveler Matt Gross).

I count myself amongst the lucky to 1. Have Brian as my private ramen tour guide in Tokyo and 2. To catch him just before he left town on another ramen adventure...perfect timing!
 
In Tokyo, the Shoyu ramen tends to include either chicken or pork broth and toppings such as scallions and/or bamboo shoots, roasted pork slices (chashu), nori (a sheet of toasted seaweed) and some form of dried fish (which is abundant in Tokyo ramen)- most notably katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes) or niboshi (dried Japanese sardines which are found in abundance in the Japanese diet). 
The dried fish lends the umami flavor (smoky, fishy, funky), it's powerful and explosive.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The Tonkotsu broth is built from boiling pork bones, collagen and fat over high heat for hours. Its consistency is thus, typically, thick with flecks of fat and rich flavors. Some shops will add chicken stock. 

Tsukemen (pronounced skay-men) was a new discovery for me. Plump noodles are served cooked and chilled on a platter next to a bowl of gravy like 'broth'. The noodles are to be dipped into the broth and devoured. Often, the broth is topped with dried fish powder which adds a shock of flavor when mixed in.
 
The culture in Tokyo ramen shops 
 A Beautiful Ballet
 
Upon entering any given ramen shop in Tokyo, every head is bowed as if in a place of worship, and though no one is really chatting (in line or sitting besides one another), there's a warmth, a welcoming hold felt. 
 
Not even the chef says much as he takes your tickets anf dances with his cohorts in the kitchen building beautiful bowls or when he graciously places your personal bowl of heaven in front of you. 
 
Complete silence, however, is not what you will encounter.  What you will hear is the slurping
 
It takes awhile for me to place my American "hometraining" down on the ramen bar and engage in this tradition- acceptable loud slurping of your precious noodles coated in steaming, umami-laden soup!
 You immediately feel like you're part of the clan, the cool kids' table.  It's community at its best.
 
There are however unspoken rules. You are expected to eat ALL of what you've ordered (it is considered bad manners not to do so) and you're expected to do so rapidly and not linger (this is easy to do when you've just waited in the extended line and the next group is lined up beside or behind you). I was told an 8-10 minute run is ideal.

Our first stop 

 Konjiki Hototogisu (金色不如帰)
in Shinjuku

 
We met at the Hatagaya train station (I ubered because I was running late and realized that this was the 3rd continent on which I've used Uber car service...so I tweeted UberTokyo, of course). 

We walked through Shinjuku down a brightly lit, wide, bricked sidewalk flanked by shops slinging produce, clothing, electronics, and knick-knacks.



Once we turned down a dark alley off of the main market street, my curiosity was immediately piqued.

My luck continued as we arrived just before opening at 6:30 pm.  We were first in line and watched the line grow exponentially as we waited. 
Great ramen shops will always have crazy lines. Some wait hours for a bowl and lines can literally wrap around city corners.


Another lucky thing is that the ramen master and his one "sous" at Hototogisu makes a weekly 'special' ramen on Thursday nights only. 
On this evening, I, along with my guide and gentlemen at the 6 other seats in Hototogisu demolished the niboshi -shoyu ramen special.

Brian ordering our ramen from the typical vending machine you'll find at the entrance...his picture is just above him on the machine
That made me chuckle and realize I was in good hands!
 

The broth was punchy! The strongest flavors I've ever encountered during my own ramen adventures. 
It was deep, funky, slick, pleasantly bitter, and heavily umami showcasing hefty seafood and brine imparted by the
niboshi (dried sardines).
The noodles were loosely curly and cooked al dente making them chewy and bouncy.
The chashu (roasted pork) was tender and virtually melted in my mouth-  high quality, thick cut, roasted pork.
 
Our next stop was truly the highlight of my visit!
 
Fuunji (風雲児) in Shinjuku





 
 
 I believed I grinned the entire time we were at Fuunji, from the wait outside to the wait within. However, my heart literally filled with joy and anticipation as we waiting against the side wall behind slurping patrons and overlooking the dance going on between 4 ramen geniuses in the kitchen. 


What a typical night will look like from opening to close at Fuuji. 
The picture above is from the viewpoint of a person who has just advanced from the line outside (which very well may have extended across the street and even into the adjacent public garden).
  The patrons against the wall behind those eating patiently await a seat.



The chef will collect the tickets dispensed after your vending machine order in preparation for your dish.

 
The  Ramen Master at Fuuji. Photo Credit: Lucky Peach

I tweeted this sentiment at that moment:
"A ramen "Mecca". Feels like hallowed ground watching this gentle machine at work #BowlNumber2"

It may sound quite dramatic, but for me it was a moment of transcendence. I was celebrating my 12th month of ramen obsession on the soil where much of it has been developed over centuries and perfected...Japan!

Fuuji's ramen master is a gentle man. He and his team literally glide around each other, building majestic bowls of the slick, rich broth with dollops of flavor-enhancing marrow, fat and collagen (pulled out of long hours of cooking bones at high heat- I believe Fuuji only uses chicken vs. pork which is rare) topped with nagi (Japanese scallion) and a heaping spoonful of umami-rich dried Japanese fish powder that once mixed into the base is one of the most powerful flavor experiences I've ever had! It was magnificent!


The container on the left is ice water and the one on the right is heated thinner broth.  It is customary to drink the remainder of your broth from the bowl after noodles and toppings are gone, but Tsukemen is so robust and thick, adding hot thinning broth helps with this tradition.


With an egg

Once out on my own the following days, I sampled the following:

Yasube (つけ麺屋 やすべえ)
in Shinjuku


After having birthday drinks with one of the most amazing bartenders I've had the pleasure of meeting (Hiroyasu Kayama at Bar Benfiddich-review to follow), he took hospitality to an entire other galaxy by serving the last group of patrons in the bar (this was after 2 am), removed his white tuxedo jacked and red silk tie, walked us over (about 6-7 blocks) to his favorite Tsukemen ramen shop, purchased my bowl at the vending machine, wished me a happy birthday and went back to work to finish his shift!
What a class act!


Unfortunately, I did not share his love of Yasube's Tsukemen.  I found the people within to be just as cold as the acceptably chewy noodles. I found the broth to be less than my expectations.  It was thin and uninteresting.


I guess after Fuuji and other hotspots for this amazing dish like Tetsu, you'll never be the same. 

Tsukemen at Yasube

 I finished my bowl courteously and called it a night.
 
Ichiran in Shibuya
(and its other chain locations)


 Ichiran serves classic Tonkotsu ramen.  Their claim to fame is their ORIGINAL Red Sauce, a red pepper based sauce including 30 other spices. 

This shop is different. 
While it is a chain, they serve a damn good ramen and in a fun and unique way. 

So far, I've presented the shops from classic matchbox to classic seating at least (elbow to elbow stools around a central kitchen where you can watch the ramen master and his apprentices at work).

At Ichiran (which remains on the top 10 list for tourists and seems to also be a favorite of many natives), there are individual dining booths.


After buying your meal at the vending machine (as per usual), there is another machine which guides you to open seats.

Vending machine


Open/Occupied Seating Machine

You also get to choose a number of tastes and textures for your bowl!


Careful of the red sauce...it is fiery!  It's also for sale!

The bowl is perfectly rich with awesome fat droplets afloat.  The booths have a window with a bamboo curtain through which your order is delivered by mysterious arms. 




You peel your own egg and they are perfectly runny and the color of a sunset:



Overall, Ichiran serves a lovely, flavorful bowl of Tonkotsu with entertainment to boot.  Somehow, anywhere I travel (abroad or otherwise) I always find a chain restaurant to fall in love with (in Paris it was Higuma Ramen, in Boston and NYC it's Totto Ramen).

Tonkotsu Ramen at Ichiran Shibuya

For dessert, they offer a creamy, refreshing matcha (green tea) tofu custard with a texture similar to flan. 
It's a beautiful dish.



Oh, and did I mention this shop is open 24/7!  An insomniac's dream come true!!! 


My last stop on my solo ramen tour was to 


AFURI (恵比寿) in Ebisu

Recommended by NYC Ramen King, Chef Ivan Orkin in an article on the Lucky Peach website covering the top ramen shops in Tokyo!
This was my first venture into Ebisu. 
Ebisu is a beautiful neighborhood, full of life! There are tons of shops, restaurants, bakeries, bars, etc.



It was an easy neighborhood to navigate after leaving the huge train station and was only one stop away from my home base of Shibuya.

There were swanky shops toting sushi and shochu next to pubs and fast food sushi shops-an all encompassing type of 'hood.
 
Afuri is a "café-style" shop.  I saw more Americans in this particular shop than I felt I'd encountered at any of the previous shops and even during my few days in Tokyo.
It, however, didn't feel like a tourist trap by any means and they were serving up some righteous bowls!

I ordered their Tsukemen at the vending machine, adding an egg and charshu. This was the first shop in which I also dared order a beer!


What was strikingly different about the Tsukemen at Afuri was that the noodles (buried underneath all of the toppings in the bowl) were warm, along with (obviously) the toppings.

The broth (which was a mindblower) was chilled and aromatic.
The flavors were brilliant and bright, a mildly vinegary sweet and smoky broth with sesame oil and whole, crisp sesame seeds. Bits of grated ginger added a tad bit of spice to the broth and little bursts of spicy surprise once bitten into.
The kakuni (cubes of braised pork) added the perfect level of slick fattiness to the dish and the charshu was mostly delicate with lovely smoky charred bits on the edges.

As I sat there, taking data into all of my senses, I understood why conversation over a miraculous bowl of ramen such as this can be taboo in Japan. 
There's so much more to concentrate on and contemplate about right in front of you, at the end of your chopsticks, on the middle of your palate, entering your nares and tickling your olfactory bulb; resonating in your ears as surrounding patrons slurp their way to nirvana.

I'm already contemplating my next visit to Japan.
There is so much more I want to experience there. 
After all, I only dined at 5 of 1000s of ramen ya.

This is the first installment of a three part series entitles "DrFoodie Goes Solo in Tokyo" covering my last minute, way to short addition to my birthday trip (November 2015). I managed to squeeze in much more than ramen too!

Check out Part Two, here:
Booze in a Beautiful Bar- Bar Benfiddich