The East Village has solidified its rep as ramen central. It’s home to Ippudo, Rai Rai Ken, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Menkui-Tei, and Setagaya, all courting diners nightly. One just-opened eatery in the nabe helps solidify that rep, but two other newcomers are testing their fates outside the noodle nexus.
Indeed, you can tell that Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights is starved for noodle joints, given the hour-long waits at Chuko (552 Vanderbilt Avenue, 718-576-6701). Two Morimoto veterans opened this minimalist, brick-walled space, presenting a notably brief menu that leans locavore à la David Chang: Expect Berkshire pork, farm-fresh eggs, and market veggies that include green tomatoes, eggplant, and corn.
But Momofuku it is not. While a few plates shine, like a raw-and-fried kale salad studded with raisins ($6), plump gyoza ($7), and great chocolate macaron ice cream sandwiches ($5), the four ramen options ($12) tell another story. Their problem? Overcooked noodles and broths that are bland and oddly buttery (and not in a delectable Paula Deen kind of way). To be fair, Chuko has greatly improved since it debuted in August, but not enough at this point to rope me back unless I lived down the block.
You’ll be much better off paying a visit to Hell’s Kitchen and popping into Tabata (540 Ninth Avenue, 212-290-7691), whose soup style recalls Rai Rai Ken or Menkui-Tei. My favorite of the newcomers, this narrow cubby warrants a visit even if you aren’t scrambling for a speedy meal before hopping a Greyhound bus at nearby Port Authority. A cadre of waiters and cooks greets you in exuberant Japanese, and the cheery service continues throughout your stay. Belly up to the bar overlooking the miniscule kitchen and tuck into one of the many tasty, affordably priced bowls of goodness. Most are fashioned with a chicken-stock base and piled high with wiry, toothsome strands, all the better for sexy slurping action.
Don’t miss the sesame-flavored tan tan men ($9), loaded with ground pork and just enough chile for you to want an iced green tea close by (no booze here, nor at any of the other restaurants). Other hits at Tabata: the rich, opaque, pork-and-chicken kyushuu ($9.75) and the simple, salt-flavored shio ($8)—the Asian grandma’s answer to Jewish penicillin. For something a bit more exotic, opt for the $9 namesake, imbued with Southeast Asian flair, thanks to a hearty dose of coconut milk, red onion, and cilantro.
If it’s miso ramen you’re craving, you’d best stay in the East Village, though. Head to Ramen Misoya (129 Second Avenue, 212-677-4825), a tiny, casual spot specializing in the soybean-paste soup ($10 to $14.50). You can choose from kome (red) miso, typical of Hokkaido; shiro (white) miso, popular in Kyoto; and mame miso, which is slightly sweeter and primarily consumed in Nagoya. Toppings range from hefty, unctuous slices of cha-shu (roast pork), which you’d be wise to order, to assorted veggies or kimchi, which you can skip. Noodles here are the thickest of the bunch and the portions hearty enough for aspiring sumo wrestlers. The brothy bowls aren’t as refined as those at Tabata, but it’s a reasonable alternative if you’re blithely quoted a three-hour wait at nearby Ippudo. Who has time to stand in the cold that long? You have Noodle York City to explore.
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