Until very recently, I’d managed to escape the ramen craze terrorizing New York. The lines (and the advice of a friend who knows her noodles) helped me resist the hype of Momofuku and Rai Rai Ken. Sure, I’d ordered better-than-average lunches from Sapporo and Menchenko-Tei when I worked in Midtown, but I didn’t go out of my way to seek the stuff out until a couple of months ago, when I caught whatever seasonal cold-and-flu nastiness was spreading itself around. By day three of feeling crappy, I was ready for something a bit more substantial and restorative than my steady sick-diet of Tylenol’s severe cold medication, coffee, orange juice, and egg drop soup from the Chinese take-away around the corner.
A search for Manhattan noodle shops turned up this list, and I was sold—it seemed just the thing to cosset and clear me up. That first bowl was revelatory; I’ve had ramen on the brain ever since. My visits to the second- and third-place contenders will be the subjects of future posts, as (ahem) someone forgot to bring her camera for both meals, but suffice it to say, the bar was set pretty high for Ramen Setagaya.
I’m ashamed to report that my research failed me here—an awfully embarrassing admission for someone who earns a living in the field. What I didn’t realize was that there are two branches of this restaurant, one of which is critically acclaimed, presumably numero uno on Rameniac’s list, and focuses on shio-style (salt-based) ramen; the other, the one I tried, deals in syo-yu (soy sauce-based) broth, more commonly called shoyu. It was my first experience with the genre, and, honestly, I didn’t love it.
The best part of my syo-yu chasyumen (pictured before the jump; $11.50) was the perfectly cooked egg, its yolk wobbly, creamy, and highly flavorful. The pork was tender and the noodles were passable, but the broth tasted heavily of seaweed; none of them measured up to what I’ve had elsewhere. Perhaps most bothersome to this neophyte slurper, however, was the gaping hole in the chile sauce department: Setagaya only offers hot-pepper flakes for added kick. Heresy in my book, especially when said flakes provide minimal heat.
My Carnivorous Cohabitator did a better job with his order. His strategy is a simple one: Always go for the option that includes the most meat. Translation? In this case, the gyolou ramen (pictured below; $11). With extra pork, slightly wider linguini-style noodles, cabbage, and a healthy spoonful of garlic on top, it was half as pretty as my syo-yu chasyumen and twice as tasty. The broth was richer and the noodles had more bite, but the ingredient that really made it was that garlic. (I’m a bit of a fan, as you may recall.) To give this bowl even more of an edge, request the addition of that aforementioned egg; there are few dishes that it wouldn’t improve. As it was, though, I stole more than a few bites.
Next stop, the other Setagaya. Here’s hoping that one of the two lives up to its reputation.
St. Marks Place
(between 2nd and 3rd Avenues)