97: Tsukemen at Tsujita L.A.
Since opening last August, Little Osaka's Tsujita L.A. has quickly become the most serious purveyor of Hakata tonkotsu in town, a fact validated by the noodle-loving crowds waiting outside the building around opening time. Though it serves its ramen only during an abbreviated lunch hour -- out of concern that the dish's popularity would overshadow the dinner-time kaiseki menu -- the lengthy wait list for a table can often rival something out of the UCLA admissions department.
Head chef Kenta Ikehata once described to us the great pains he took to master his pork bone broth, a recipe he spent years perfecting in Japan. It was like raising a kitten, he said. If that's true, then the other item available at lunch, a bowl of thick slippery noodles and an intense thickened dipping broth called tsukemen, might be akin to a sabertooth tiger.
The tsukemen broth starts out as the same tonkotsu base as the ramen, except it's simmered and reduced for 60 hours, then fortified with bonito until it's as viscous as motor oil. You dip your noodles, chewy, bouncy and cooked al dente, into the umami-rich liquid, then slurp up the lubricated strands. The proper technique for enjoyment involves consuming one third of the noodles with the broth, the second third with a dash of togarashi spice, and the final third with a squeeze of lime. Although you might have a hard time getting past the pure animalistic bliss of the first section.
You could add slices of char siu, too, in case things weren't already porky enough, or a sauce-saturated soft-boiled egg that bursts its orange yolk when pierced with a chopstick. Don't forget the red pickled ginger or spicy mustard leaf condiment, either, which should be applied with the same dissonant mix of enthusiasm and caution used when spreading Philippe's hot mustard on your French dip. Once you're done, your waitress will offer you the option of having your condensed broth, which verges on being too potent to sip on its own, converted into a pleasant cup of soup by pouring in hot water. You could probably consume your deconstructed tsukemen a million different ways if you really tried -- and we are well on our way -- and have none of them be anything short of spectacular.