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

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

Russ and Daughters

Russ and Daughters is a New York institution for smoked fish, much like how Katz’s is synonymous with pastrami sandwiches and Grimaldi’s is known for pizza. It’s pretty impressive how a place like this has held up so well over the years. There’s so much bagel and lox competition now with fancy hipster places like Sadelle’s and Black Seed sprouting up right and left. But there’s something about nostalgia and an authentic backstory that keep people coming back to Russ and Daughters, leaving the newcomers’ stars to fade when their 15 minutes are up.

old fashioned counter service
old fashioned counter service

Russ and Daughters opened a restaurant on Orchard St about two years ago, and the lines are still out the door. Everyone is pretty committed to waiting out the hour and a half for a table, both young hipsters in beanies discovering Russ for the first time and the more experienced clientele who have grown up with the brand ages ago. Once you’re in, you get that old school NYC experience that you’ve been waiting patiently for. It looks like a scene of an Edward Hopper painting come to life, in which smartly dressed staff members in white lab technician jackets move across shelves of specialty food products in classic Pop Art packaging. And because Russ and Daughters actually has been around for that long, you do feel like you’re getting the real deal, not tickets to a knockoff.

matzo ball soup
matzo ball soup
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the classic board – gaspe nova smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, capers
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lower sunny side – sunny side up eggs, gaspe nova scotia salmon, potato latkes

Of course you have to get some sort of bagel and lox or smoked fish spread, and a bowl of hearty matzo ball soup. The presentation is pretty clean and classic, staying true to how people would have consumed these heritage food products back then. There are some new fangled creations for people who want modern day brunch options, like the Lower Sunny Side, a plate of fried eggs, latke and smoked salmon, but nothing ever veers too much from the original. Any variations are Russ and Daughters 2.0, not 6.0.

Somehow I wasn’t bothered by the hour and a half wait. I’ve attempted this twice before and bailed, but one day I just accepted that the wait comes with the territory and patiently read through a copy of the NY Times. Like a grandmother who is late because she doesn’t know how to use Google Maps, Russ and Daughters might try your patience but all is forgiven when the two of you reunite.

Kopitiam, Malaysian Breakfast

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kopitiam’s cozy quarters on canal st

A bowl of nasi lemak for breakfast is not for the faint of heart. This traditional Malaysian rice bowl dish, which is one of the specialties at tiny LES Malaysian cafe Kopitiam, is shameless in its pungent, stinky fishiness. The anchovies are front and center, eyes peeking out of their tiny, dried bodies, swimming in a fragrant sea of other strong personalities like fish sauce, shrimp paste and garlic. Stinky, fishy, spicy, sweet, this is the type of Asian dish that makes white people with meek palates very, very afraid.

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nasi lemak

That’s the type of approach that Kopitiam takes to its Malaysian cooking–bold and authentic flavors. There’s no toning down of this or that to appeal to a broad audience, which I appreciate. You definitely have to be in a certain mood to eat foods that are so intense early in the day, in the same way that you can only take in so many episodes of Game of Thrones, but when you do, you won’t forget it.

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pulut panggang

The pulut panggang, a sticky rice snack covered in banana leaf and filled with dried shrimp, was just as funky and feisty as the nasi lemak that came before it. As a Korean, I’ve had my fair share of eating dried squid or cuttlefish, and the highly concentrated and briney flavors in just about everything I ate felt very familiar.

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blue morning glory sticky rice

We also had the pulut inti, a blue morning glory sticky rice with grated coconut that reminded me a lot of Thai coconut sticky rice. As a sweet treat, it served as a nice palate cleanser for all the salty marinades that came before it. I’d say that the sweeter options like the malaysian toast and pandan and coconut cake are good entry points for those who want to tread the Malaysian waters a bit more lightly. But I’d recommend plunging right in. Almost everyone in the small 4 person restaurant as well as the steady flow of take out customers were going for it, and we were all staying afloat just fine.


Kopitiam
51 Canal St (between Orchard and Ludlow St)
New York, NY 10002
(646) 894-7081

Wildair Wine Bar

The problem with wine bars is the food. Why is it that the only options seem to be cheese and charcuterie plates? Wildair, the newish wine bar run by the team behind popular restaurant Contra, focuses on natural and funky wines, and the food menu is so much more than cheese and prosciutto. And it lacks that “wine bar” atmosphere that can be a little annoying–pretentiousness, vinophiles taking about how they LOVE this grape, girls night out pre-gaming, etc. It feels like a comfortable neighborhood bar filled with normal people who are there just to hang out.

fried squid
fried squid, spring onion, lemon, basil with squid ink aioli

I have mixed feelings about making a meal out of small plates, but the ones at Wildair are diverse and well portioned so that you can feel like you’ve had a proper square meal. If you only had to limit yourself to one thing, order the fried squid. It looks like the stuff that they serve at Chinese restaurants, except the batter is so much crisper and starchier, and the meat is actually soft and tender and almost ceviche like. And of course, that black ink aioli makes all the difference.

bread and olive oil
house bread and olive oil
beef tartare
beef tartare, smoked cheddar, chestnut

I initially didn’t want to order the bread and olive oil, because why fill up on something so safe and commonplace when there’s a beef tartare to try, but this is one hearty, rustic loaf that represents what we love most about bread. Thick, country crust with a warm, glutinous and yeasty interior and served with the best olive oil, it’s comforting and nourishing and pleasing. It surprisingly outshone the beef tartare I was eyeing, which was disappointingly covered in a blanket of smoked cheddar instead of being left pure and plain.

pork milanese
pork milanese, gribiche, mustard greens
pork rilettes
pork rillette
georgia white shrimp
georgia white shrimp, celery, cilantro

We ordered a pork milanese in case the other plates were too measly, and we probably could have done without it. It was a perfectly solid dish, but not all that memorable, other than being dense and heavy. I started to notice that all of these plates started adding up. The pork rillettes, which is a shredded paste of mashed pork meat cooked in its own fat, takes up real estate like a foie gras can, and the fried squid and loaf were of course incremental. We were on the verge of canceling the order of Georgia white shrimp with celery and Korean chili, but I was glad to have made room for them and would recommend that others do the same.

If this place weren’t always so packed, I would probably come here regularly, because it’s nice trying a new, weird wine with a little food on the side. Be prepared for disappointment, as the no-reservations policy means that a walk-in attempt at 7 pm will simply be impossible, even if you’re willing to wait for hours, because so is everyone else. A seat here may be a wildcard, but the odds of a good meal at Wildair are anything but.


Wildair
142 Orchard St (between Rivington and Delancey St)
New York, NY 10002
(646) 964-5624

Bar Goto

Bar Goto is a new Japanese cocktail bar in the LES run by Pegu Bar alum Kenta Goto. Its quiet elegance and serious-minded approach to cocktails is very reminiscent of other Japanese lounges such as Angel’s Share or B Flat. Something about it though feels a little more like a destination bar in a way that these smaller places don’t. Clearly it would be a waste if you ordered a traditional vodka soda or a gin and tonic here. Properly utilize your bartender and have him mix you an interesting cocktail like the fizzy Calpico soda or an “Umami” Bloody Mary. These might sound like silly, lightweight drinks, but they are actually far more thoughtful and complex than what their labels suggest.

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celery with kombu, sesame, shiso flakes and sesame oil
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miso chicken wings
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fried japanese burdock root fries
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octopus sashimi
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okonomiyaki japanese pancakes

There is a limited food menu should you want to pair your drink with some small bites. The highlights by far are the savory okonomiyaki Japanese pancakes and the crispy miso sesame chicken wings. Coincidentally they also happen to be the most substantial items on the menu. If you want something more delicate, the sesame oil coated celery sticks and the octopus sashimi will hold you over without overpowering your palate. But whatever you do, make room for refills of that wonderfully effervescent Calpico cocktail.


Bar Goto
245 Eldridge St (Stanton and E. Houston St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 475-4411