Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Insider on Japanese Noodle Joints

My brother, a foodie in training, has been on the hunt for the best Japanese ramen houses in NYC ever since he found this blog that ranked the top ones to try. He checked out Ippudo, which was ranked 2nd on the blog's list and has been raving about its ramen and pork buns ever since. Intrigued by the idea of having the best ramen in th city, my fiance and I decided to jump to the top of the list and check out Ramen Setagaya.

Ramen Setagaya is a ramen chain from Japan. There are two locations in NYC - one specializes in salt-based broth (supposedly a special salt from Vietnam), and the other, soy sauce based broth. We went to the former location, which I believe is operated by a Korean staff. I could've been wrong, but I swore I heard them speaking Korean to each other. I wonder if it's any less authentic because of that.

Although we were impressed by Ramen Setagaya, it wasn't a perfect experience. We ordered the Tsukemen, which came with noodles and a broth with grilled pork belly. It was tasty, and the pork was soooo good!!! However, the broth was a tad too salty and greasy, and it was only lukewarm.

Let me tell you how good the pork was. For the first time since my return from the Hong Kong trip last year, I was very very happy to have converted back to eating pork. The pork belly was thinly sliced into small pieces, grilled and tossed into the broth. There was a good amount of fat in the meat, but I didn't mind it at all because it was so tasty. As for the noodles, they were very similar to fettucini. This was the first time I had ramen this thick.

Other than the Tsukemen, we also ordered Oyako-Don, which is rice topped with minced chicken and raw egg, and Seafood Gyoza (since we didn't want to get all porked out with Pork Gyoza). The taste and texture of the chicken in the Oyako-Don reminded me of corned beef. There were pieces of pickles in there that added an interest to the dish. Overall, it was pleasant.

As for the Gyoza - don't even bother. They totally skimmed on the filling, which was a tad below average. It was the skinniest Gyoza I had ever seen.

Given that my brother was very fast to proclaim Ippudo as the epitome of Japanese Ramen joints in the city without even trying Ramen Setagaya, I went ahead and asked for an opinion from a native Japanese (my hairdresser). Her pick? Ippudo! She agreed with me that Setagaya's broth is too salty.

I am now dying to try Ippudo! I'm so excited at the prospect of having something even better to try. I would still return to Ramen Setagaya any time though. The pork, the pork!

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