308 Prince Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
Remember how I said I often crave Americanized Chinese food at any given time? I always crave Japanese food. No matter the time, date, place, or weather, I find comfort in Japanese food. And after I eat Japanese food, I literally beam with joy.
When I interned at Redeemer Center for Life, I facilitated cooking lessons with children from the after-school program. We learned how to cook foods from different cultures, while parents and neighbors often served as guest chefs. A friend taught us how to make miso soup with pork and gyoza. I have tried to replicate the handmade gyoza filling and wrappers on my own with minimal success.
One evening, a young man who worked in the after-school program helped me cook bolognese sauce. To my dismay, he added a melange of seasonings while my back was turned. After dinner, many children complimented the sauce as the best they'd ever tasted. Upon later investigation, I discovered that MSG was a major component of the mystery spice blend.
Typically, I have fulfilled my cravings for Japanese food by enjoying Obento-Ya's happy hour with friends, and enduring long wait times for dinner. Despite multiple lengthy wait times in Obento-Ya's crowded entryway, Jake and Jeni still can't remember to make reservations. Friday evening, we ventured to Lowertown to try Tanpopo Noodle Shop for the first time. At 7:30 p.m., the restaurant was fairly slow and we were seated immediately.
To begin, we ordered a couple shot-sized servings of cold Sake. To the right is the nama honjozu , shunsetzu "Spring Water," $2.75, and to the left is the tokubetsu junmai, housui "Fragrant Water," $2.85.
The "Spring Water" was smooth and slightly sweet. Jake's serving of "Fragrant Water" had sweet and sour notes as described by our waitress, and a little more bite. Generally, I prefer warm sake.
At first bite, I adored Tanpopo's Spinach with Sesame, $5.75. Tender, lightly-cooked spinach was combined with a "freshly ground sesame sauce." The nutty, slightly-sweet sauce tasted well balanced and gave this cold salad an addictive quality.
One of my other favorite foods in the whole, wide world is Agadashe Tofu, $4.75. Four-five pieces of fried tofu arrived in our order, sitting in a mild broth. Unlike versions I have previously enjoyed, the portion of tofu was both generous, and showered with chewy bonito fish flakes that tasted of smoke.
Jake ordered a bowl of beef udon soup, $8.95, described as "simmered beef with onions and wakame." Jake and I savored the delicious soup broth which embodied richness and lightness, simultaneously. The broth's oniony sweetness distinguished the soup from others. We slurped chewy udon noodles and tender slices of slow-cooked beef that reminded me of beef brisket and pot roast.
Per usual, I ordered the Shrimp Tempura Soba, $9.25. For the first time, I ordered soba instead of udon noodles. I preferred the thinner soba noodles, enjoying the grainier texture and nutty, buckwheat flavor. I immediately fished one shrimp tempura out from the steaming broth to avoid soggy batter. However, I discovered I also enjoyed the shrimp left to bathe in the broth. The shrimp firmly snapped upon each bite.
The flavor of the broth was savory and seaweed gave the broth an oceanic quality. The broth also contained mushrooms and scallion. I struggle with "cooked seaweed-ambivalence," unsure about whether or not I enjoy it's murky flavor. I ate as many pieces of seaweed from my bowl, as quickly as possible, to mute the seaweed flavor (as a general rule, I save the best for last). When I reheated my leftover soup, the broth was even more flavorful, and the seaweed note was mellowed.
We left Tanpopo satisfied. I still love Obento-Ya's sushi and Japanese bar food, but enjoyed Tanpopo's short wait time and affordable prices. I would return in a heartbeat for either of the soups we ordered and look forward to trying more items such as their broiled mackerel and Nabeyaki Udon.