Ramen: Momosan + Nakamura

Masaharu Morimoto is a bad ass Iron Chef whose Morimoto chain runs the world, and now he wants to conquer the ramen market. Of course the Iron Chef is going to crush it, which is why the lines for his new ramen restaurant Momosan were out of control. There were stories about how people put their names down for a table at 6:30 pm, only to have a text saying it was ready at 10 pm. I was not about to try my luck at getting a table anytime soon.

the iron chef himself
the iron chef himself in kitchen stadium

Things were a little calmer during the week. On a Wednesday, we put our names down for a table for two at 7:00 pm and were quoted a wait time of 45 minutes to an hour. Pretty reasonable considering what the wait could have been. And they were true to their word, overdelivering on expectations, even. By the time it was 7:30 our table was ready.

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the momosan tonkotsu – a combination of 70% pork bones and 30% chicken bones boiled for 12-14 hours, topped with braised pork belly, boiled egg, mushroom, nori and garlic oil
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the tokyo chicken ramen with steamed chicken, boiled egg, menma, seared garlic chives, mushrooms and toasted nori
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hot sauces and seasonings on the side

There are four ramen options, and we tried the classic tonkotsu and the tokyo chicken. The broth in the tonkotsu is pretty intense. It’s like they boiled several pork bones and never ladled out the fat. To be precise, Momosan uses a blend of 70% pork bones and 30% chicken bones boiled for 12-14 hours to make its tonkotsu. It’s thick and cloudy and extremely rich, and you will definitely have a film of fat formed around the insides of your mouth. It was a bit too much for me, as I like my broths a little lighter, but those into tonkotsu and hearty bone broths will probably like this. The pork chashu topping that came with it was excellent, consisting of tasty little slabs of bacon like meat that could be good on their own. The noodles were a little overcooked, which was surprising, as I don’t think the Iron Chef would stand for this. Despite this oversight, the bowl was pretty good and very satisfying, not quite Ippudo good, but certainly in the same league. Honestly, the tokyo chicken isn’t really worth getting. The broth, while pleasant, is as superficial and as enjoyable as a conversation about the weather. The toppings were excellent, particularly the bamboo shoots, but they weren’t enough to break through the surface level pleasantries.

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crispy mimiga – fried pig ear
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yaki salmon – salmon belly and collar with a side of spicy miso dipping sauce

The surprise standout at Momosan was the crispy mimiga, a plate of fried slivers of pig ears that could enter the echelons of fried food classics such as the french fry and the tortilla chip. There’s no mistake that you’re chewing on some cartilage, but you’ll have no problem getting all Mike Tyson on it. The menu of small plates in general sounded so appetizing, I literally wanted to order everything–the stamina tofu, the toppogi rice cakes and the zuke don–but we had to limit ourselves to the mimiga and the yaki salmon. There’s no question that Morimoto’s cuisine reigns supreme at Momosan, and I can’t wait to go back and try some more.

nakamura's name in lights
nakamura’s name in lights

The Iron Chef has stolen the show with his splashy debut, but another relatively recent ramen opening that is worth your attention is Nakamura down in LES on Delancey and Clinton St. Nakamura is run by Jack Nakamura, one of the great ramen masters from Japan, and he is not shy about his reputation. His name is confidently lit up in bright lights in the middle of the restaurant so that there is no mistake that this brand of ramen is all his and is worth the trek to a relatively obscure part of town.

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the curry spiced ramen – chicken and gyokai broth, curry spices, minced beef, bean sprouts
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yuzu dashi ramen – chicken and gyokai broth, chashu, menma, spinach, yuzu

I first tried Nakamura’s ramen at Ramen Lab and was a big fan of the light, clean broth and the chewy and flavorful noodles. This is the type of broth that Morimoto’s tokyo chicken ramen was probably going for, but it’s nowhere as good. You can still get his signature torigara shoyu ramen and the XO miso ramen here, as well as some new options like the yuzu dashi and the curry spiced ramen. I absolutely loved the yuzu dashi, it was the first bowl of ramen that didn’t leave me feeling so thirsty and obese afterwards. In fact, the light, citrus soup and the lithe noodles left me with a little spring in my step. The curry spiced ramen was on the opposite end of the spectrum, intensely saturated with flavor and depth in every slurp so that the only logical thing to do afterwards was to hibernate for the spring.

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beef soboro rice – minced beef with gari, scallions and miso-sansho hot sauce. and a side of eggs.

There aren’t as many sides on the Nakamura menu, but the beef soboro rice should absolutely be one you order. The minced meat over rice is so good that you may want to eat two and make a meal out of it, but that would be crazy. Normally for a ramen meal of this quality there would be lines out the door for a seat, but somehow this place is flying under the radar. So get your foot in the door while you can.

Momosan Ramen & Sake
342 Lexington Ave (between 39th and 40th St)
New York, NY 10016
(646) 201-5529

172 Delancey St (between Clinton and Attorney St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 614-1810

Ramen Lab’s Master Class Noodles

…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.

ramen lab - orion beer
a beer feels nice after waiting in the cold

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.

ramen lab - kitchen unfiltered
mad scientists in the ramen lab

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.

ramen lab - shoyu ramen with egg
torigara shoyu ramen with eggs on the side

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.

ramen lab - xo miso ramen
xo miso ramen

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.

Ramen Lab
70 Kenmare Street (between Mulberry and Mott)
New York, NY 10012
(646) 613-7522

Ramen Lab