Tatsu Aikawa is a very serious ramen chef. In the ramen guide titled Ten-Stop Tampopo Tour in our August issue, we recommended a trip to Austin to sample his restaurant, Ramen Tatsu-Ya, mainly because "Tats," as the chef is known, is planning to open a Houston location.
When I stopped by Sunday night around six, there were 25 people in line in front of me—and the temperature was in the high 90s. When I eventually got in the door to order, I ducked in the kitchen to say hello to "Tats." Since I was dining solo, he invited me to eat standing up in the kitchen at a stainless steel work table. We chatted for awhile, then he asked me what I wanted. I attempted to order the most popular item:
#2 Tonkotsu Sho-Yu ($8.75)
Tonkotsu Original with special blend of soy sauce. Pork belly, marinated egg, bamboo, crushed peppercorns, scallions, and roasted seaweed.
But Tats had a different idea. He wanted me to sample his new "dipping noodles," the dish titled tsukemen on the blackboard menu. I wasn't about to argue. The waiter set me up in the kitchen and I ate while I watched Tats meticulously boiling each batch of noodles individually, setting a timer for accuracy.
Ramen eaters in Japan rush through their hot bowls of soup, slurping furiously as they try to finish all the noodles before they get soggy. Tsukemen solves this problem by putting a dipping sauce in one bowl and the dry noodles with the chashu pork, boiled egg, and garnishes in another.
The thick dipping sauce was made from tonkotsu broth, vinegar, and soy sauce. As I had spent all day in the heat, the salty sauce tasted perfect to me. There was a lime wedge in the bowl of noodles too. Tats told me to squeeze it over the noodles when I was half way finished for a completely different flavor. He was right—the tart, lime-flavored noodles refreshed the palate.
The bad news is that the plan to have a Houston ramen shop open by the fall is not looking good. "I'm having trouble finding a place in Houston," Tats told me. "But, it's not just the location; I need to find the right people, too."