…and yet ANOTHER new ramen shop debuted in the city. It’s like for every yogurt shop that goes out of business, a ramen shop takes its place. The newest kid on the block, Ramen Lab, is not just some clueless ingenue trying her hand at the ramen craze. It’s run by Sun Noodle, which supplies custom made ramen noodles to Momofuku, Ivan Orkin and all of the city’s heavy hitters, with chef Jack Nakamura at the helm, who is known as one of the “gods of Ramen” in Japan. With credentials like these, Ramen Lab is a legitimate shop that deserves a visit.
Clearly a lot of other people think so, because I had to wait outside on a winter night for about 45 minutes for one of the 10 spots around the counter. There’s no sign up sheet or a person quoting how long the wait will be. You just wait until someone leaves. Once a spot opens up, you make your way inside and stand, not sit, around the counter. There are two ramens to choose from–the torigara shoyu ramen and the XO miso vegetarian ramen.
There’s a reason why they call this a ramen lab. The chefs are more like mad scientists with a few tricks up their sleeve. The most unusual one was when Nakamura was cooking the noodles, he would take the strainer and suddenly lurch forward, as if he were about to pitch the noodles into the wall, and then stopped abruptly. This epileptic fit was quite fascinating, although I’m not quite sure how this impacted the noodles at all. During the day, the restaurant converts into an actual lab of sorts, offering educational seminars and courses on ramen making.
The torigara shoyu ramen was much more traditional. It featured a very clean broth made of chicken, a departure from the intense tonkotsu pork broths that the city seems to be obsessed with. Delicate, thinner noodles were used, since the broth was simple enough to let the slight, starchy glutens of the noodle come through. The ingredients were there to provide little accents of texture and flavors, but not so much to throw the delicate nature of the shoyu off balance. I guess I am so used to tonkotsu broths that I was surprised by the basic nature of this shoyu, but I liked how drinkable the broth was, unburdened by all that cloudy pork fat. A bowl of ramen seasoned well and reasonably with impeccable noodles is something I can get onboard with.
The XO miso was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The miso broth was intensely rich and earthy and almost buttery, and as such, thicker, springier noodles were used so that they wouldn’t recede beneath the heavy miso veil. I thought this bowl played extremely well to the senses. The noodles were perfectly chewy, the stir-fried bean sprouts and chives provided some nice texture, the XO sauce added just a hint of heat and brine without being too funky, and the miso felt very smooth. Add the silky, luscious yolk from the eggs to optimize the experience. This vegetarian bowl is no leafy green milquetoast, it has a lot more depth and heft to it than a lot of meat-based ramen bowls out there.
I would come back here for the shoyu ramen because I like my ramens a little more basic, and I like to slurp the broth at the end without feeling like clouds of liquid fat are weighing me down. The miso ramen was very unique and good in its own way, but that dense broth certainly was not drinkable. If you’re expecting an Ippudo like flavorful tonkotsu broth, then you might come away disappointed by the shoyu here, but it seems like simplicity and subtlety are the ways to go. They don’t call Nakamura the ramen god for nothing, and his group of disciples are growing by the minute.
70 Kenmare Street (between Mulberry and Mott)
New York, NY 10012