Michelin-Starred Ramen from Tokyo Arrives in Dumbo
At Tsuta, a mother and son dig into warmth
As some of you know, I am a mom. It happened 13 years ago, give or take, when I had my first kid, Eiji. Then I had another one four years later, Sam, who is now 9. As some of you may also know, Eiji was born Emily and assigned female at birth (I have learned the terms, people). Sam, male. Eiji is now identifying as male, Sam still as male. Both are gay, perhaps bi, perhaps pan? Eiji is also ace and demi-romantic. Yes, more terms. I am straight and cis and very boring.
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You know, we are in a moment here, where it is all fluid and there’s a lot to try to piece together in this puzzle of identity and gender and sexuality and belonging. And all those new terms!
I’ve been a part of this process with Eiji for about two years now, since he was in 6th grade and decided he was a boy. Or that he’d always been a boy. I was surprised at first, but then not. I realized this is not a black and white situation and there is more to this picture than the pronouns. It’s really about what’s underneath, what the feelings are that give rise to saying “I am a he/they/it.” So for me, with Eiji at least, the question of gender is not irrelevant, it’s just not everything. We support Eiji in every way, with his new name, new pronouns, with binders, and whatever he needs and whatever makes him feel more comfortable, short of medical intervention.
My take is informed by lots of reading and talking with professionals in this space, and also thinking. (What do you think I do on all those long runs?) What I’ve come away with is not exactly a conclusion, but a place to rest my heart for now, because 13 year old brains are not really able to make permanent life-changing decisions. There is too much in that brain of theirs that’s not developed yet. What’s happening inside a 13 year old brain is the fury of hormones and puberty, the fear of not fitting in, the weight of self-doubt, and the heartbreaking lack of self-esteem.
Let me be clear: I don’t want to fix Eiji, I love Eiji whether he’s a he, a she, a they or an it. But I want Eiji to come into his true self with confidence. Not from a place of fear and doubt. Which is where I feel he is now, as a passenger in a car that at times is careening out of control, where all of these feelings come together as one massive relentless storm. And these kids are thrown into it without the tools to handle it, because their brains just aren’t yet equipped. Their brains are good with gentle breezes and sunny days. And all of a sudden they’re in a Category 5 Storm.
So, we parents become the wind shields. We become the raincoats and the umbrellas and warm hats and gloves. We help them to slow down the spiral. We listen and hold them and let them vent. We hug and reassure. We get the therapists and the meds. It is not a fix, but it’s a way to get through the earthquake to more solid ground. This method of support is not flawless. We have had big mental health issues and crises. But we have come through and are together, riding this wave, all of us, holding on to each other, trying to make the ride smooth even when we feel like we live in a blender.
While the gender identity conversations take up a lot of space in my relationship with Eiji, it is not everything. We all contain multitudes don’t we? Eiji and I love a lot of the same things: singing loudly, dancing in the streets, playing piano, shopping at thrift stores, cooking, and eating. He is a wildly fun, funny, hilarious, thoughtful, sensitive, creative, and talented human. And I love spending time with him. Genuinely. Even if he were not my kid I’d want to hang out with him. One of the things we most love to do together is go out to eat. He’s a great dinner date.
Eiji and I had a date night on Friday evening and decided to go to Tsuta, the famed Tokyo restaurant that was the very first ramen spot in the world to garner a Michelin star. Tsuta opened in a space in Dumbo close to our home in Carroll Gardens, and so we hopped on a couple of Citi Bikes and rode over. It was a gorgeous night, quite cold and clear, and the city’s bright skyline up against the dark sky, reflected on the river as we rode through Brooklyn Bridge Park. It was magnificent. Eiji would maybe describe it differently, perhaps mentioning the pummeling wind and freezing temperatures icing our faces with tears, but I am writing this review not him.
I’d heard about Tsuta when their opening was delayed because of the unexpected death of the restaurant's 43-year-old founder Yuki Onishi. Onishi worked in his father’s ramen restaurant when he was younger, and went on to be a fashion merchandiser who frequently visited New York. In 2012, he opened a small ramen shop in Tokyo that was awarded one Michelin star in 2015: the first star ever awarded to a ramen shop in the world. Tragically, he went into acute heart failure right before the restaurant’s NYC opening in September.
It was Onishi’s dream to open a restaurant in New York City, so owners Makiko Takahashi and Alan Lo, in partnership with Tsuta Global CEO, Brian Chua, decided to move forward with the Brooklyn location, which they did a few weeks ago at 22 Old Fulton Street, near Elizabeth Place. You’ll find it right beyond the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and just past the big hill that my friends Talya and Anne force me to run when we go for our jogs. It neighbors %Arabica, another hit Japanese coffee shop that opened in the neighborhood two years ago.
As I mentioned, it was rather cold out, and by the time we got off our bikes Eiji and I needed to thaw out. Tsuta’s ramen was our liquid radiator. We grabbed two seats at the bar (the restaurant does not accept reservations), an immaculate laminated white counter, and ate our ramen within arms reach of the chefs who delicately simmered bubbling broths, carefully ladling them into fire engine red bowls in two sizes (regular and large, but the regular is ample enough especially if you’re having snacks like gyoza or karaage.)
The chefs tend to their bowls of ramen like helicopter parents, nurturing the soups gently, pulling out garnishes and toppings from little tubs and bowls, delicately assembling every little detail until the bowls are beautiful and ready to be presented to the world.