Ramen has become extremely popular over the past decade. Up until then it was something you bought for a dollar and heated up in the microwave in college. But add a few great chefs and even more adventurous diners, and a new specialty is born. I just recently jumped on the bandwagon, and I’m not sure what on earth I was waiting for, it’s just so good! Here are a few spots with great Ramen and everything else!
Roki Le Izakaya
Chef Koji Hagihara, a former right hand man to one of the Iron Chefs, opened this upscale restaurant in the Flatiron district. Besides the ever popular Ramen, the main attractions here are small plates and “Hot Pots”. I recently dined here with my daughter, and we were totally blown away! While everything was authentic Japanese, the flavors were unique and rich. We just about tried a little bit of everything, and if I had more room, I would have had even more food in this stunning eatery.
Our first course was a Japanese Canapé sampler consisting of Uni (Sea Urchin and Flying Fish Roe), Kani (Snow Crab, avocado), Unagi (eel, sansho pepper), Amaebi (sweet shrimp), Ahi Poke (marinated tuna, seaweed), and Truffle & Mushroom (Shitake, Shimeji, truffle). The eel being my favorite, you actually can’t go wrong with any of them! Next was the Kanpachi Carpaccio, a sort of Sashimi, made with amberjack, onion, radish, wasabi and ponzu. My only regret was that there wasn’t more of it.
If you know me, then you know that Pork Belly is a minor obsession of mine. I love it. So of course we had the Pork Belly Bun with cucumber and wagarashiko, and, honest to God, this was one of the best I ever had. I was swooning. Ramen, we needed Ramen, so we chose the Classic Shoyu Ramen with pork broth, pork belly (hello!) and minced pork, and the Chasu Tonkotsu Ramen with chicken and pork broth, pork belly and egg. De-li-cous. We loved it. Against all odds we had room for their incredible desserts: Sesame Ice Cream with Okanawa Black Sugar sauce and a sesame-caramel wafer, and Strawberry and Raspberry Ice-cream with condensed milk and a Buttermilk-Almond cookie. These were total showstoppers, beautifully plated (as everything was), and incredibly delicious. I’m coming back.
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Netflix and Chill for a foodie means marathon watching of the series “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. What a great series. I saw every second of it, and while it’s impossible to visit all the featured restaurants (unless you’re super rich and a world traveler), there is one right here in New York City. Ivan Orkin, who considers himself a cook as opposed to a Ramen Chef, learned his craft hands on in Japan, and has worked with with culinary greats like Bobby Flay. I was hesitant to visit his restaurant Ivan Ramen for a while, because I was expecting difficulties due to popularity. There actually is a little wait despite reservations, but you’d better believe it’s worth it.
His Ramen noodles are one of a kind, being thicker, flat rye noodles and whole wheat noodles, while the traditional noodle is thinner and made of wheat. My daughter and I tried the Triple Pork Triple Garlic Mazemen, Mazemen being a little less soupy, more saucey almost, which was amazing, featuring Pork Belly two ways and Whole Wheat Noodles. Our second Ramen was the Spicy Red Chili Ramen (have water ready) with minced pork, smashed egg and rye noodles. Just unbelievable. We also had an order of Japanese Fried Chicken with toasted garlic caramel and a Shiso Ranch Sauce, a brand new, very welcome flavor combo for me. Two thumbs up!!
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Momofuku Noodle Bar
David Chang is a highly successful restauranteur of South Korean decent, who owns several Momofuku eateries, each with a different emphasis on cuisine and scale. My first experience with his establishments was this very Ramen restaurant on the lower Eastside. I picked a Tuesday night to go, hoping the line wouldn’t be as long, since they don’t take reservations (at least not for small groups), but there was still a considerable wait. It’s all good, great food is always worth waiting for.
Here we started out with the fried shrimp with chili and aioli, and they were pretty good, but then I thought of adding some of David Chang’s Ssām sauce, and it turned into something heavenly. Do yourself a favor and buy a bottle on the way out. We then tried the Momofuku Ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder and a poached egg, and the Spicy Horizon Ramen with scallion, chickpeas and baby bok chow. Being carnivores galore, we added some chicken to it, and both these dishes were spot on, and left no doubt about why the line was so long….
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