Origami vs. Tanpopo in a battle of noodle soups
If you've seen the Japanese film Tampopo, you know the power of a perfectly prepared bowl of Japanese noodles. Heck, even if you've never heard of Tampopo, you probably know someone who subsisted on ramen noodles when times were tough. This Food Fight is for them. We want to make sure the transition from 89-cent noodles to $8.99 noodles is worth the extra investment. Read on to find out whether Origami or Tanpopo Noodle Shop serves up the most slurp-worthy soba in the Cities.
Origami serves noodle soups only at lunch. They offer a choice of udon, thick noodles made with wheat flour, or soba, thin noodles made with buckwheat flour. We tried kitsune soba, which was $8.75 before tax, a soba noodle soup that traditionally comes with thinly sliced, deep-fried tofu. Origami's kitsune soba also has spinach and a slice of fish cake. Plus, Origami augments an already hefty portion of soup with a starter salad (lettuce, thin strands of carrot, cucumber, a lone tomato, and a single piece of broccoli) and an onigiri rice ball, a small rice patty filled with a few chunks of grilled salmon.
The kitsune soba was beautiful, with all the ingredients suspended in broth. The flavors were subtle, except for the tofu, which had the sweetness of maple syrup. Overall, the soup is satisfying. With the added salad and rice bowl, it's a filling meal for under $10.
A.J. Olmscheid Kitsune soba at Tanpopo Noodle Shop
To the disappointment of St. Paul's Lowertown lunch crowd, Tanpopo stopped serving lunch in mid-July because of light-rail construction. Now the only time to get noodles is during dinner.
Tanpopo offers the same choice between udon and soba noodles in its noodle soups. At $8.95, Tanpopo's kitsune soba costs about the same as Origami's, though Tanpopo doesn't include a salad or rice ball. Tanpopo's kitsune soba differed slightly from Origami's, leaving out the fish cake and spinach in favor of chunks of shiitake mushroom.
Tanpopo's deep-fried tofu was flavorful, but not sweet; its soba noodles were light and the broth a bit fishier than Origami's. Overall, it gave the impression of delicacy, though the restaurant's aesthetic might have made that impression, too. Tanpopo is a spare space, with exposed beams and concrete floors, and each table has a small vase filled with fresh flowers. Even the trays the food arrives on are carefully composed. The tray holds the soup, chopsticks in a paper sheathe printed with "Tanpopo Noodle Shop," a ceramic soup spoon, and a tiny colored bowl of ground spices the size of a salt cellar, with a tiny, flat-bottomed wooden spoon to season your soup. And a bonus for fans of the film Tampopo: There's a kerchief-wearing Japanese woman, owner Koshiki Yonemura, cooking in this kitchen, too.
The winner: Both spots served a filling meal for less than $10. Origami is a perfect spot for a filling lunch in the middle of a downtown worker's day. But if you're looking for delicacy and aesthetics--heck, even if you're just looking for take-out--we'd take Tanpopo.