By Suzanne Parker
If you ever visit Japan, unless you’re part of the 1 percent, you will probably eat a lot of ramen. It may be the only thing you can afford to eat there. It’s Japan’s most beloved restaurant comfort food. In the last few years, a sort of ramen craze has taken hold in New York, and ramen places have popping up like hidden charges on a phone bill.
Don’t worry — it bears little resemblance to the slacker food in the cheap packages that you subsisted on in college. The Japanese take their chicken noodle soup really seriously. On a recent visit to Tamashii on Broadway in Astoria, we learned that their soup “is made daily using whole chickens and five different vegetables which are simmered together for 14 hours. More than three types of seafood and medicinal herbs are added for a well-rounded taste and for better absorption of nutrients into the body.” Japanese penicillin, huh?
Tamashii offers a deep selection of what it labels “tapas (side dishes).” Call them what you like, they are an assortment of Japanese snack foods. The beef and shitake would make an ample meal for one diner or an appetizer for two or three. It is described as “pan fried beef and mushrooms marinated in special soy sauce.” Elsewhere on the menu they claim “We use tamari soy sauce, a special soy sauce that was reserved for Japanese royalty. (No wheat addition).” Good news if you’re one of those people who avoids gluten. The beef and mushies were ample, tasty, if a little overly sweet. Along with the special soy sauce they must have slipped in quite a bit of sugar.
The other tapas we tried, Kaki fry (breaded fried oysters) and Ika kara age (breaded and fried squid) were disappointing. In both cases, between the crisp panko exterior and the seafood heart lurked a layer of something soft and gummy. It was as if the seafood had been surrounded by the interior of a slightly undercooked potato croquette.
Beverages at Tamashii are worthy of mention. Along with enough of a sake selection to merit its own list, and several Japanese beers, you can get adventurous. They offer Calpico in three flavors, a milky soft drink that is wildly popular in Japan, and multiple flavors, sweet or not, of Itoen tea. There’s also soju for serious drinkers, and Bokbunja, a Korean fruit wine made from wild and/or cultivated Korean black raspberries called “bokbunja.”
Of course, the ramen is the main event here. We were immediately drawn to the miso ramen because of the assertion “We use hatcho miso, 100 percent soy beans that’s been fermented for two years. It is then mixed with 12 beneficial ingredients and fermented for another month to make our miso paste.” It comes with the aforementioned miso in a blob on top, to be stirred into the broth, and pork, bamboo shoots, egg, corn kernels, scallion, and cabbage. The broth was soul satisfyingly rich, and salty. Other than being a bit stingy with the bean sprouts, the toppings were all first rate.
Champon is a spicy seafood version of ramen. Here it’s topped with mixed seafood, bean sprouts, cabbage, onion, scallion and egg. The spiciness packs quite a wallop. They were generous with the toppings, but we missed the funny little fish cake with the pink swirl most ramen joints use as a garnish.
The Bottom Line
Just like in Japan, Tamashii is a sure thing when you want a tasty, affordable meal out. Expect to be greeted by the traditional shout of “Irasshaimase!” (Welcome) when you arrive, and expect your belly to be full, and your wallet not to be empty when you leave.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Astoria, NY 11106
Price Range: Appetizers $3.50—7.95, Mains $11—13 (most mains $2 less for lunch)
Cuisine: Japanese ramen
Setting: Small, traditional.
Service: Friendly, helpful, bilingual
Hours: Sunday to Saturday from Noon – 11pm
Alcohol: Wine and Beer
Credit cards: All
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes