Friday, April 11, 2008

Restaurant: Ramen Setagaya

The two block radius around my apartment in the last few years seems to have become the nexus for ramen soup existence in New York, and I for one can't complain about that. You have your low end no frills Rai Rai Ken, which has been around longer than any other place in the area. You have the high end culinary darling that is the ever expanding Momofuku empire (now with an office right next door to me). Somewhere in the middle (although that is debatable) is Ramen Setagaya. Only two blocks down from Momofuku, I will put this out there right now, it has better more flavorful (and cheaper) ramen than Momofuko. Momofuku, while great, is not a place to go if you just want a ramen fix, it is a place to go for a fun, exciting and delectable meal. Sometimes though, you just want ramen, and to not know if your eating Berkshire Pork or the same pork you find at my local Key Food.

After only waiting a few minutes (the lines used to be around the corner when it first opened) I was seated and it didn't take long to order from the short menu. I ordered the shio ramen with the BBQed pork and an order of seafood gyoza. While you can order regular pork, the grilled pork I felt added a nice charred grill flavor to what was the most exquisite broth I have ever tasted. The broth is considered a salt broth, and while that may not sound good, the amount of salt, and the types of salt (and salty products) used balance well to make for a flavor that is quite unusual and savory. It's not going to blow you away, but there is something to be said for such a simple taste that is done so well and yet so many other places in New York can't reach the same level of flavor. The noodles are also delicious, thin, and cooked al dente. The biggest problem I have with most ramen places is the noodles are always over cooked, and become soggy by the time you are done because they sit in steaming hot broth while you eat. Ramen Setagaya's noodles were firm and held up to the steaming broth the entire meal, much to my delight. The bowl of noodles and broth is topped not only with the pork, but also half a boiled egg, some various flakes of who knows what, and sesame oil marinated bamboo shoots. If you have time to look up from your bowl, check out the crazy TV show they play on repeat - nothing beats Japanese TV!

The gyoza, while very tasty, are nothing out of the ordinary. Everyone has come to expect gyoza when in a Japanese restaurant, and who doesn't love tiny dumplings stuffed with various meats and fish? I should note, however, that the dipping sauce for the gyoza was great, with a nice balance of saltiness from the soy, acid from vinegar, and what seemed to be small pieces of ginger.

All in all this is my new favorite ramen house, and they even have a Monday deal - $12 for ramen and gyoza. They also offer Japanese beer (nothing unusual), and the option to order extra broth, extra noodles, and extra pork. One idea that I don't get is the option to order the noodles and broth separate and dip the noodles into the broth. Seems like a lot of unnecessary effort to me.

Not That Awful Ramen From College

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