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COUNTER INTELLIGENCE

Ramen to the Rescue

September 12, 1996|MARY MELTON

For the chicken soup-deprived in L.A.--those without a bubbe, who have never experienced the fabled medicinal wonders of the soup that will at the least kill a cold, at the most reaffirm the meaning of life--Yosh Maki is a surrogate Jewish grandmother. Except that Yosh stands a foot taller than your average bubbe; his buzz cut is as gray as his mustache; fashion-wise, he favors khakis and Nikes; and, oh yes, he's from Japan. Yosh Maki's heavenly medicine is ramen.

Hard to believe? Just grab someone from the conga line of sniffling grips, sound editors and computer graphic artists who stumble through the door, tissues in hand, of Yosh's and his wife, Yuri's, small restaurant, Atch-Kotch, for a ramen to go. The minimalist space is crammed into the middle of a long strip mall at Fountain and Vine anchored by a raucous Cuban supper club at one end, a demure French bakery at the other.

In this Hollywood nether world of dilapidated bungalows, dingbat apartments and an Army base-like assemblage of post-production house barracks, Atch-Kotch draws an especially devoted, non-sniffling lunchtime clientele as well (though dinner's a less frantic option). Producer-director Mel Brooks has been spotted kibbitzing over a miso tanmen.

Yosh's standard ramen is a swirl of spaghetti-sized flour noodles in a shio (clear), shoyu (soy sauce-flavored) or miso chicken-based broth. It is joined in the swim by green onions, bamboo shoots and strips of boiled pork. The first sip off your wooden spoon is about as subtle as a slap in the face. The hearty concoction--Yosh adds just the right big pinches of salt to the shio, never too much soy to the shoyu--warms your stomach at a slow, blissful pace. The murky miso broth moves a little faster.

For noodle lovers who prefer a more complex broth, Atch-Kotch prepares ramen sapporo style, with sauteed onions and bean sprouts thrown in, or tanmen, adding still-crisp carrots, bell peppers and wilted cabbage to the brew. All of the noodles, including fat udon in a fish stock, or the fiber-rich buckwheat soba--are delivered in steaming, gargantuan coffee cups (small) or deep, Yosh-custom-designed bowls (regular).

More than 20 toppings, including grated garlic or tempura crust, can be plopped atop. A ramen and dim sum combination lets you opt for Yosh's divine steamed shrimp shumai, a tiny package of minced shrimp, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots wrapped in a flour dough bow, or the deep-fried, totally non-bland harumaki, with carrots, Chinese cabbage and glistening glass noodles oozing out of a bite like electrical wire. Yosh also spins out a just-fine chicken teriyaki whose best supporting feature is a delicious, Japanese-style cold mashed potato side, spiked with onion and cucumber.

Though lunch is a kick, nighttime's my preferred time. Sometimes at dinner, when it's slow enough for Yuri to finish reading a paperback at a corner table, Yosh plays around in the kitchen. Feeling adventurous one quiet evening, we asked him to order our meal. "What don't you feel like?" he asked, confiscating our menus. Ten minutes later a barrage hit us--from eggplant sauteed in a spicy mustard to crunchy baby bok choy stir-fried with garlic, from slabs of braised tofu piled high with minced ginger to fried tofu pockets that resembled shopping bags for Barbie, overstuffed with bonita fish and green onion.

Yosh, a former freelance photographer who snapped society weddings at Santa Barbara's Biltmore, has no training as a chef. He explains his craft thus: "I know what I like to eat."

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WHERE TO GO:

Atch-Kotch, 1253 N. Vine St., No. 5, Hollywood; (213) 467-5537. Open Mon.-Sat. for lunch and dinner. All major credit cards. Beer, wine and sake. Takeout. Validated lot parking. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $8-$20.

WHAT TO GET: Shio or shoyu ramen, udon, shrimp shumai, sauteed eggplant.

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