It’s official: Setagaya is not the ramen spot for me.
To give the mini-chain the benefit of the doubt, I stopped by the new outpost on University Place this week, but I still found it seriously underwhelming. The only positive elements were the pork (tender, with a nicely smoky flavor) and the egg (pretty good, if not as crazy-good as it was the last time around); the broth tasted heavily of seaweed, and not even a hefty dose of chile flakes could save it.
As I unenthusiastically ate my way through as much as I could stomach, I couldn’t help but wish I’d gone to Ippudo instead.
What was I thinking? If I’d chosen differently, I could’ve had a bowl of their lovely Akamaru Modern ramen ($13) in front of me at that very moment. I learned a valuable lesson, though: My cravings will accept no substitutes.
The Akamaru Modern is a dish that’s more than just the sum of its parts. Take a good look at this image:
At about 10:00, you’ll see a slice or two of fairly standard chasyu pork…pretty freakin’ tasty, but not extraordinary. Scallions at 3:00, soy sauce at 9:00, a few dashes of garlic oil in the middle; still nothing to write home about.
Now, we get to the mind-blowingly good stuff.
See that blob of red at 12:00? That’s a spicy-miso-paste flavor bomb. When mixed in with the rest of the broth, already rich from hours of simmering pork bones, it creates the best thing I’ve tasted in my ramen-consuming experience, hands down.
And bobbing around at 6:00 are chunks of luscious pork belly, braised until they reach true melt-in-your-mouth status. Cough up $3 extra, and they’re yours.
The quality of Ippudo’s noodles can fluctuate, but they were nicely al dente on this particular day.
As if the ramen wouldn’t have enough of that wonderful, magical animal, my friend and I started with the steamed pork buns ($7). They came two to an order, and I was hard-pressed to share ’em. Pliant outside and crispy inside, a slick of spicy-sweet sauce mingling with just a touch of mayo, I might’ve requested seconds if it weren’t for the giant bowl of soup en route to our table.
Ippudo isn’t the cheapest in the city, especially considering that the Akamaru Modern (the only one I’ve tried—I just can’t bring myself to have anything else) doesn’t come with the seasoned egg ($2 to add on) that’s standard at most other places. It is by far my favorite, though, and I rationalize the expense by telling myself that if I splurge there, I don’t need to eat anything else for the rest of the day.
And that’s almost always entirely true.
65 Fourth Avenue
(between 9th and 10th streets)