Shoki Ramen House, a popular midtown spot the size of a sardine can. Almost elbow to elbow, we sat contemplating the menu that invited us to either pick one of the classic options or customize our own ramen if we dared. Nope, I didn't take the creative route, but I did try something new: Kuroguma Tan Tan Men.
Packed with grounded black sesame seeds, the Kuroguma broth was dark, thick, earthy, and somewhat Halloweenish like something from a witch's cauldron. Tender bamboo shoots and al dente noodles swam together harmoniously. Grass-fed minced beef added subtle richness as it integrated with the broth. And fresh spinach was a jazzy decoration, much needed in this drab dish. I ordered "extra spicy" but got what I'd call "mild." No biggie, though. There was a jar of chili paste on the table, and I was gratefully eager to use it. Two spoonfuls--perfect!
Plus, having a full view of the ramen mavens in action was such a privilege. With energetic scrupulosity, they maneuvered multiple saucepans at once, switching from one burner to another, sprinkling this, stirring that, and occasionally yelling "Irasshaimase" to welcome entering customers. And oh how that six-year-old kid at the nearby table so enthusiastically and ineptly handled his chopsticks; he was adorable. As usual, a good bowl of ramen gratified me. But noticing others, both the skillful and the clumsy, made the dining experience even more heartening.