The Early Word: Kambi Ramen House
Is there really the need for another ramen joint in the East Village? When I'm hit with a ramen crazing, I usually end up at Ippudo. The Japanese-import restaurant makes its own unearthy, gossamer noodles, and the deeply flavored broth is made from long simmered pork bones. Occasionally, I'll stop in for the (nontraditional) Momofuku ramen (if the line isn't too long) because of the quality of the chashu made from Berkshire pork, and the deliciousness that is the wobbly, barely-cooked egg on top.
I started with the shrimp gyoza. They were nicely browned on the bottom and the wrappers were pleasently chewy, although each one stuck to the other in a way that made me think they had been frozen. What set the dumplings apart was that, instead of a stuffing of minced shrimp and scallion, each dumpling carried one entire shrimp, with the tail sticking out the back. It's a more shrimpy experience.
You're here for ramen, so here's how it goes: You choose a broth (pork, pork-chicken, chicken, soy bean or vegetable). Then you choose a flavor (soy sauce, salt, miso and so on). Next you have your choice of chashu. (Pork or chicken. Please choose pork.) And finally, choose your noodle: Thick, thin or wavy, whole wheat or bean ("low calorific"). Your server can suggest which noodle she or he thinks is best. (But I never heard anyone pushing the bean noodles. Shocking.)
I got the kimchi miso ramen (above). Sit at the bar, and you can watch your ramen made. First, the cook takes an ice-cream scoop full of miso and puts it in a wok with onions, sprouts and broth; he brings this to a roiling boil. Then it gets sloshed into your bowl, followed by a helping of the noodle of your choice. Your ramen is garnished with two slices of pork chashu, a soy-cooked egg, wood-ear mushrooms, bean sprouts, corn, bamboo and a toasted sheet of nori.
The first thing I noticed about the miso-kimchi bowl was the broth--milky beige flecked with red, and although there's no kimchi to be seen, the broth is clearly infused with its sharp, spicy, garlicky essence. I could drink a big bowl of it any day.
I had the thin noodles, which soak up the showstopper broth adequately. They're thin, although not as thin as Ippudo's, and stay firm throughout the meal. Their eggy, bounciness does seem a little generic, and I'm fairly certain that none of the noodles are house-made. The chashu was the best garnish: basically a jellyroll of pork belly, tender and completely wonderful.
I didn't try any of the other broths, so I'll let you tell me how those are. Don't forget to snag a seat at the bar, where all the good action is.
Kambi Ramen House
351 East 14th Street
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