Tsujita LA Annex
2050 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
The opening of the Annex across the street from Tsujita, taking over Miyata Menji’s previous haunted space, is the biggest expansion opening so far in 2013 (Bludso’s Bar-&-Que is a close second, but by all accounts, it’s a somewhat incomplete version of the Texas-style BBQ you’d find in Compton, but at higher prices in a much sexier location). When news of this second Tsujita showed up, I (along with just about everyone else who’ve braved the long lunch waits at the original location) was thinking: FINALLY ramen and tsukemen available at dinner!!!
But hold on people…the ramen and tsukemen you’ve come to love at Tsujita will NOT be served at the Annex?!?
That was what I found out days before the Annex’s soft opening last Thursday, available to those who had “liked” Tsujita’s Facebook page and requested an invitation from here (I didn’t see them check invitations on either of my visits, but people had them ready just in case). To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. Okay, more than just a bit – it was like seeing a really hot girl’s profile picture on some dating website, only to be disappointed by her less-than-perfect appearance in person on your first date. But by then I was so emotionally committed, there was no going back.
As the ramen-iacs probably know, the ramen at the original Tsujita was modeled after the Hakata-style ramen at the legendary Tanaka Shoten in Tokyo, right down to the bowl design. The Annex introduces two new types of ramen: the shoyu and the miso. The miso ramen has so far been deemed not ready for primetime, so the shoyu ramen has the spotlight all to itself – quite the daunting task considering how ramen slurpers can easily just run across the street at the first sight/taste of disappointment. However, the Annex was unfazed, and rightfully so…
…because the ramen at Annex has been modeled after an even more legendary ramen in Tokyo: Ramen Jiro. Want to know how epic Ramen Jiro is? It’s been named on countless lists of best places to eat in Japan, and received a perfect score from my online ramen professor (although it appears the bowl’s design takes after Bario Ramen, another ramen-ya that serves Jiro-style ramen). While I can’t say whether Annex’s version does justice to Jiro’s, I can say that Tsujita has another noodle winner on its hand.
First of all, this isn’t a true shoyu ramen. This bowl was FATTY, a frankenstein bowl of shoyu-tonkotsu broth pour high, with bits of pork fat polluting it despite the broth being strained by the chefs before being poured in. That backfat option you see on the menu? No need at all. This isn’t the weaksauce kotteri option you’d find at Daikokuya/Yamadaya – they’re giving you actual extra fat. But that broth – so rich and coarse upon sipping, yet so garlicky and smooth going down. It’s quite an experience.
They want you to load up on the fresh garlic and homemade onikasu (red chili powder), up to three scoops to be “awesome.” I’ve found that, while the chili powder isn’t exactly spicy and the fact that you can never have enough garlic, being “good” (one scoop each) is good enough. You want to taste that delicious broth as much as possible. As with the Jiro ramen, the bowl comes piled high with bean sprouts and shredded cabbage, with some cracked black pepper sprinkled on top. There’s the perfect soft-boiled egg and chashu, each as wonderful as the versions across the street.
But what about the noodles? Upon digging into the bowl, I was met by a surprising sight: (very) thick noodles, whose form was reminiscent of udon and lo mein, while retaining a balancing texture of al dente firmness and chewy bite (the latter like the noodles served with the tsukemen). It’s really an unfamiliar sight for me with ramen, and I had to confirm with the chefs and servers about whether this was correct or not on my first visit. But after getting over the slight shock, I realized that to stand up to such a powerful broth, a “strong” noodle was needed as vessel.
And one more thing: you might think that the plate under the bowl is used to carry the ramen because it overflows (and this is true). But the real reason is because the bowls are kept in a hot bath until right before serving, providing the optimal temperature to serve the ramen. All this, and you can see that Tsujita ain’t messing around. This isn’t a money grab expansion; this is Tsujita expanding (and perfecting) their repertoire. They went to the Hakeem Olajuwon big man camp in the offseason and came back with some new low post moves.
Less than a week in, and Tsujita Annex has already surpassed The Learning Annex as the most important “annex” of our time. Note: cash only.
*no grade first month of opening, but if things keep up be prepared for at least an A-