We are entering a new era; it is the Ramenaissance, says bokkyo. New York City’s underachieving ramen scene just got a huge boost with the arrival of Setagaya, a Tokyo chain that planted its flag in the East Village two weeks ago. If that weren’t enough good news, another Japanese contender, Ippudo, is preparing to open a few blocks away.
Setagaya’s specialty is shio (salt) ramen: thin wheat noodles in a broth brewed slowly from pork, chicken, seaweed, and dried seafood, including scallop (not so common in ramen), and seasoned not with shoyu but with salt. The result is a deep, alluring soup, relatively light and delicate, in which ocean flavors take the lead over meat—”complex in its simplicity,” writes Silverjay. It’s finished with a powdered blend of dried scallop, fried onion, and grapeseed oil, which contributes more to aroma than to taste. Besides shio ramen, there’s tsukemen: thick, curly, pleasingly chewy noodles served with salty, porky, garlicky sauce for dipping—”a huge contrast to the delicate broth of the shio ramen,” observes berto, “and I mean this in a good way.”
Toppings and sides show close attention to detail. Roast pork is prepared with care: deliciously fatty, only lightly marinated, and cut thick (“I’ll take one slice of this guy’s chashu over three slices of Momofuku’s any day,” Silverjay declares). Menma (dry pickled bamboo) is marinated in the ramen broth overnight to promote harmony with the noodles. Other stuff you might find in your bowl: seaweed, shaved naganegi (Japanese long onion), and a nicely salty, creamy shio tama (salt-cooked egg). bokkyo digs the “gastronomic gestalt,” in which side dishes like the egg and oshinko (pickled vegetables) “not only complement the main dish but, like a good supporting cast in a movie, make the main actor better. ... That was a hot dish to eat on a warm day, but stepping out of Setagaya, strangely enough, I felt blissfully cool.”
If your benchmark ramen is Santoka, the Hokkaido import whose long-cooked, powerfully rich tonkotsu broth has enchanted New Yorkers from across the Hudson at New Jersey’s Mitsuwa Marketplace, Setagaya may disappoint. “This ramen won’t be for everyone,” Silverjay advises. “You won’t be blown away, taste-wise, and the flavor profile is quite subtle on the seafood side. The Japanese impression of American tastes is that we like things strongly flavored.”
Enter Ippudo, a ramen chain from Japan’s southernmost main island, Kyushu, which has staked out a space on Fourth Avenue and is awaiting its permits. It specializes in a robust Hakata-style tonkotsu broth and offers kaedama service, or all-you-can-eat noodles. “Very good stuff,” Silverjay reports. “Better bring your breath mints. They provide little hand presses for you to crush fresh garlic into your soup.”
Ramen Setagaya [East Village]
141 First Avenue (between E. Ninth Street and St. Marks Place), Manhattan
Hakata Ippudo [East Village]
To open at 65 Fourth Avenue (between E. Ninth and 10th streets), Manhattan
Ramen Santoka [Bergen County]
In Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Road (near Archer Street), Edgewater, NJ
Board Links: Ramen Setagaya (らーめん せたが屋) 1st Ave
Momofuku Noodle vs. Setagaya
Setagaya is open.
Hakata tonkotsu ramen coming to the Big Apple