For me, Korean ramen “ramyun” noodles are so closely tied to the fiery bowls of cheap Shin ramyun that I ate growing up, so when I heard that an elevated Korean ramyun restaurant called Jeju Noodle Bar had opened in the West Village, I rolled my eyes. Great, I guess that means I get to pay $20 for a dainty and soulless bowl of expensive, artisanal ingredients that will never satisfy me the way those Shin noodles did. And no offense to Pete Wells, but when the white critics started raving about Jeju, I was even more suspicious. It was probably best to stay far away.
It was a cold winter’s night and the only remedy was a hot bowl of noodles. We decided to give Jeju Noodle Bar a try, since we wanted to try someplace new and clearly it would check the box on the carbs we were craving. My expectations going into dinner were pretty low.
Maybe those low expectations explain why I really enjoyed the meal? I didn’t think the pyunche or amberjack sashimi salad could offer anything different from all the other crudos / ceviches or raw fish appetizers out there, but Jeju’s approach of adding just a tad strokes of its rich and luscious brown butter “yang yum jang” sauce to the sushi grade slices made such a difference. Even better was the gochujang bokum. The formula of carbs + marinated ground beef is a winning one, as those partial to digging into a satisfying bowl of Taiwanese rice or ssam bap would know, so this dish in particular won me over. I was definitely feeling bad about judging Jeju before giving it a chance.
Even still, I suspected the ramyun noodles would be disappointing. The first few bites of the gochu ramen weren’t what I was expecting, but not in a bad way. Gochu, which is a Korean word for chili pepper, has connotations of spicy heat, but the broth was more mellow than fiery, and that was okay with me. I liked how the pork broth was rich and rounded without being greasy or extremely cloudy, and how there was a nice variety of texture and flavors. There was never a dull moment, in which one minute you might be munching on some pickled kimchee and the next you might be devouring a delicious piece of pork belly.
The so-ramyun is probably the more interesting of the two ramyuns, but also the bigger departure from a traditional bowl of ramen. This one was thick and cloudy, similar to the look and feel of a traditional bowl of Korean seolleongtang ox bone soup, and even resembled it in taste. It used to be one of my favorite foods growing up–we’d always drive to a place in LA famous for it–so I was a big fan of this one as well. Those who like a deep Japanese tonkotsu broth might like this one, although the veal base gives it more of a slightly funkier flavor. When the ramyun comes out in a tiny bowl, you’ll be dismayed at first, but then you’ll understand why. A little broth goes a long way, and by the end you’ll be comfortably warm and full and nearly ready to confront the cold outside.
Jeju Noodle Bar
679 Greenwich St (between Christopher and W. 10th St)
New York, NY 10014