Hide-Chan Ramen — 248 East 52nd Street, Manhattan, NY
In the part of midtown where no one goes after the bell rings, and the traders depart for their happy hours, you will find an unassuming ramen joint that is second-to-none. Well, second to perhaps only Ippudo. Last year, Time Out New York awarded Hide-Chan “The Best Checkmate to Ippudo” and rightfully so.
This time we were joined by Dan who took the extra spot in Drew’s absence. Drew had recently taken a bit of a breather from his vacation to go on an excursion and couldn’t make it this week. We arrived just short of 9pm to a nearly empty restaurant and were seated immediately.
If this place was to be the “Checkmate” to Ippudo, it certainly backed it up with its variety of appetizers and quick service (without the hassle of a three hour waitlist!). Per the usual we ordered a round of beers and began the vetting process of selecting which appetizers would make the cut list this time around. We decide on the pork buns, the shrimp balls, and the fried chicken pieces. I’m sure they all had proper Japanese sounding names, but at this point I was much too drunk to write it all down and had already been drinking for four hours before we all met.
The pork buns were a hit. I could barely get a photo of them before the plate was swarmed by the savages I was dining with. In reality, I think we just missed the pork buns since Santouka didn’t offer them the week before. The shrimp balls were devoured promptly and the fried chicken was delicious. The fried chicken morsel in my left hand had this perfect saltiness to it that complimented the cold Sapporo I was clutching with my right.
The dinner conversation that night ran through topics like how to make millions overnight to the intricacies of Ian’s dating life and somewhere in middle of all that we convinced Dan into giving us a sales pitch on why we should buy ad space in his magazine. It was truly awesome to see a professional at work, he had me at hello and I would’ve bought a page right there if my face wasn’t full of chicken.
In what seemed like an eternity (or maybe it was just me), the ramen came and it was as nourishing and amazing as every other time we go to ramen on Monday nights. The table quieted down, a few more beers were tossed back, and we closed the restaurant down once again. As we collected our bill and exited out on to the street, the general feeling from the table was that Hide-Chan would definitely make our top 10 and should be on the must-eat list for any ramen enthusiast in NYC. That’s Check. For us, Hide-Chan truly has all the best parts of Ippudo with none of the pretentiousness and hassle. That’s Mate.
Next week we go to St. Marks to check out Yakitori Taisho.
By the time the front-of-house manager misted the inside of Momofuku Noodle Bar’s front door with glass cleaner at quarter-past-five yesterday evening, more than 100 people were waiting outside the First Avenue restaurant in a disarranged line that spanned the block and ended somewhere under the shade along 10th Street. Inside Momofuku, staff huddled over the evening’s protocol and special menu. Chef de cuisine Sean Heller organized himself at the restaurant’s pass, while cooks calmly sliced scallions and set their stocks just under the simmer. Exactly six minutes after the doors opened, every seat in the house was filled and Ivan Orkin, the evening’s guest chef, was boiling ramen noodles and lining up bowls in the restaurant’s open kitchen. Within a couple of hours, the noodles were sold out.
Maybe you’ve heard this guy’s origin story: Orkin is from Long Island, land of four-lane highways and hardscrabble farms, everything bagels and Entenmann’s bakery outlets. He studied Japanese in college and taught English for a few years in the late ‘80s. During his travels, and after watching the gateway noodle movie Tampopo (check it), he became mesmerized by enormous bowls of fat- and salt-laced noodle soup. In New York, Orkin went to cooking school, then spent time in corporate kitchens and restaurants like Lutèce before moving to Japan and dedicating himself to ramen recipes. After much error and a few trials, in 2007, he opened a ten-seat shop in Tokyo called Ivan Ramen, a near-instant hit, followed in 2010 by a second ramenya with an entirely new menu. Also instant: the prepackaged noodles and soup base made by Sapporo Ichiban, which bear a picture of the chef’s face as a de facto seal of quality, sold in Japanese supermarkets.
RM: Looks like we started a trend…
Continue reading here.
"Bridge and Tunnel"
Santouka — 595 River Road, Edgewater, NJ
Tucked away in the food court of a Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, NJ - a full 30 minute drive from Manhattan - is a basic Ramen restaurant called Santouka. Santouka, unlike some of the other Ramen places we’ve explored thus far, is actually a franchise brought over from Japan and commonly associated with the Mitsuwa supermarket chain. You might call it the McDonalds of Ramen given its distribution of worldwide locations and venues, but that’s as far as the analogy goes. Santouka’s Ramen has sometimes been compared to being the closest thing to the real thing served from a bistro in Tokyo.
We started off the evening earlier this week since the food court at Mitsuwa closes at 9pm. Given also the fact that it takes nearly a full hour to drive through downtown traffic and cross through the Lincoln tunnel and then up to Edgewater, we began our adventure at 7pm. Jordan joined us again this time taking Drew’s place as Drew continues his worldly travels and adventures. We arrive around 8pm to find that we’ve come right before final call and immediately line up to peruse though the laminated menu and order at the counter. Ian heads over to the attached supermarket to grab a couple Sapporos and bottle of saki while we grab a table with our food tickets in hand.
One of the first things you immediately notice while ordering is the lack of an extensive appetizer selection we found at some of the other full service/sit-down restaurants (translation: there were no pork buns this time which set the tone immediately on a down note). Ian arrives back with the alcohol from his supermarket adventure shortly after our tickets are called and quietly stashes it under the table. Puzzled, we observe as he points to the plainly posted sign across our table that explicitly states “NO ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION IN FOOD COURT”. We poured the beers into water cups and proceeded accordingly.
Shannon loved the Ramen immediately (it was after all his suggestion) as he was a previously a frequent visitor of the one in LA. Jordan enjoyed his as well but definitely had a slightly more muted reaction stating "yeah, its good". Antoine exclaimed that he was not impressed and was still reeling from the lack of pork buns, a mandatory part he felt was visibly missing from this weeks event. Ian followed suit with his disdain and agreed that it definitely wasn’t the best he’d ever had and continually went on about how Chuko was wayyyy better (and now looking back, I think Antoine was just disappointed because he wasn’t seduced by the whole experience and Ian? well, I think Ian was bummed there wasn’t a waitress to play with…I digress).
9pm came and went, and by 9:15pm we were the only ones left in the building. We got kicked out, took the top off the Wrangler, and enjoyed the cool summer breeze and our ride home back to the city. Despite the mixed opinions on the experience and overall food quality, if there was one thing we could all agree upon, it was that the view of the city from the NJ side of the Hudson was absolutely spectacular and Santouka was well worth the visit, if not just for the view.
Next up: Hidechan
“The Girl with the Ramen Tattoo”
IPPUDO — 65 4th Avenue, Manhattan
When one thinks of ramen in NYC, Ippudo likely ranks among the top few that come to mind. After years of being a runaway success in Japan, Ippudo opened up in 2008 on the part of Park Ave where it mysteriously becomes 4th Avenue. Since Ippudo doesn’t take reservations, lines for a table have been known to be upwards of 3-4 hours. We decided to go see what all the fuss was about.
Drew and Antoine were out this week so, per the rules, Drew sent Jordan and Antoine sent Stinson in their place. Jordan got off early from work so he put our name down around 6pm for our usual 8pm time slot (ridiculous… I know). When we all arrived, the place was absolutely packed. We grabbed a few beers at the bar and got seated promptly (we had been in line since 6pm after all). Shortly thereafter, while we perused the menu, the Hirata Buns (pork buns) that we ordered at the bar arrived. If Chuko’s pork buns were the best we’ve ever had, these were probably a close second; the meat was tender, the buns were done to perfection, and the overall taste was saucier and had a stronger BBQ flavor than other places.
The appetizer section at Ippudo has bar-none the most variety we’ve seen to date. Per our waiter’s suggestions, we started off with: the Samurai Rib, Yamitsuki Goma Kyuri (cool cucumbers topped with sesame oil), and the Hirata Chicken Wings. Everything was amazing, all the dishes were excellent.
We’ll let Stinson elaborate on the appetizers:
“What came as a surprise to this novice Ramen Monday’s attendee was the attention to detail and sheer tastiness of the appetizer options. Even the cold cucumber dish burst with flavor through the simple presentation of sliced cucumber with sesame oil and garlic pepper spices. If the chicken wings hadn’t already been delicious enough, the accompanying cabbage in spicy oil and vinegar definitely sent it over the edge. The pork ribs were off-the-chain, mouth-watering, falling off the bone, slap-your-mama good. And last but not least, was a very well-done pork bun (although Momofuko remains the mecca for this treat).”
Particularly of note is that the waitstaff here was very attentive, almost overstaffed in a good way. It felt like we had three people attending to our table at any given time and that’s when we met the Girl with the Ramen Tattoo. One of our servers had just started at Ippudo two weeks ago, but her devotion to ramen went much further than that. Boldly displayed on the underside of her wrist she wore her love for ramen in a way that only a tattoo could convey.
…and then the ramen came.
Shannon [Karaka Men w/poached egg]: (Pork) Good but not great, it was a bit leaner than what I usually like though it was still tender; (Egg) poached per our waiters recommendation and was oddly cold when it broke open, tasty nonetheless; (Broth) the Karaka is a spicier version of their Miso Ramen which gave it both the rich flavor of Miso with an extra kick of their house blend of spices, it also came with a ball of freshly grated ginger which gave it an extra kick; (Noodles) a bit more al dente and less wavy than the ramen I’ve seen in the past, the unique texture definitely gives it a different character.
Stinson [Modern Ramen]: (Pork) Large tender pieces of lean pork which added a nice salty touch to the mixture, however the fattier pieces are what I adore; (Egg) Chose the additional poached egg option ($2) and it was the perfect catalyst to give the broth it’s delicious and rich consistency; (Broth) the best part - as it should be. It was spicy, slight hints of garlic, proper consistency (in part thanks to the poached egg) and just overall bangin’. (Noodle) shouldn’t be the focal point in my opinion, and when done right, just brings everything together in each bite. A good noodle is a vehicle to slurp up all this other tastiness.That was the type of noodle at Ippudo.
Jordan [Modern Ramen]: As I, too, partook in the Modern Ramen, I wholeheartedly agree with Stinson. Although, I think it was the dollop of miso paste, left for the eater to mix in to taste, which gave the broth that rich consistency Stinson mentioned. I also would’ve liked a little more heat.
So, is Ippudo worth the wait? In the end, we all decided that Ippudo was indeed worth the wait. We came not knowing what to expect except a long line and a boatload of hype, and as it turns out, the hype lives up to its lofty bar. If you find yourself with the patience to withstand the long wait (or can afford to send a summer intern!) Ippudo should definitely be near the top of your Ramen list.
Next up… Santouka.
"Ramen & Latex"
CHUKO— 552 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn
Chuko is located in the cozy Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights among a smattering of quaint shops and restaurants lining Vanderbilt Avenue. Our waitress, Becca, described it as the brainchild of “a couple of ex-Morimoto guys when they decided they were done with the corporate thing”. If you happen to get Becca as your waitress, ask her about her latex clothing design firm (yes… it is exactly what you think it is).
We arrived around 9pm to a packed restaurant where we were told by the hostess that it would be about 15-20 minutes. Naturally, we gravitated to the bodega across the street and brown-bagged a couple tall boys until our table was ready.
For starters: we ordered the Kale Salad, three of their pork buns, and one fried green tomato buns (per Becky’s suggestion). Honestly, the pork buns were probably the best pork buns we’ve had yet since we’ve started this little tradition.
On to the main course…
Shannon [Soy Ramen]: (Broth) a little saltier than some of the other places, but very good nonetheless; (Pork) slices were large, fatty and flavorful and not too seared; (Egg) perfectly soft boiled; (Noodles) great all around, very happy.
Antoine [Veggie Ramen w/side of egg & pork]: (TBD)
Ian [Kim Chi Ramen]: (TBD)
Drew [Kim Chi Ramen]: (TBD)
After all was said and done, the general consensus was that Antoine had won the night as the veggie bowl offered both the complex tastes of different vegetables not found in regular ramen, but with the added pork and egg, it had everything you could ever want from a bowl of ramen.
I’ll get the tasting notes from the other guys later…slackers.
Next week we go to Ippudo.