Mu Ramen

Long Island City isn’t the easiest place to get to, and it’s not a food destination per se.  Some places serve as a good reason to venture out to a neighborhood less traveled.  Mu Ramen is one of those places.

I remember visiting them years ago when they were just a pop-up inside of a Long Island City bagel shop in some warehouse-y stretch by the water, and there was already this rare sense of comfort and wonder about the food.  Ippudo is reliable and reliably busy, Setagaya is a dive, Takashi is pure indulgence – those ramen spots have their feel and familiarity.  Mu has a sense of refinement, sureness about its craft, and confidence in turning up the details and luxury in its versions of things you think you know.

Look at the beautiful uni.  And ikura.  And under that pile of rich umami goodness some nori rice and spicy tuna and rice.  Fresh AF.Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Uni Ikura Rice And fried chicken wings stuffed with foie gras.  A little decadent, delightfully crispy without being gummy or over-breaded or oily.  A little dangerous to bite into because the foie gras is pretty hot.  Delicious though.Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Foie Gras Stuffed Chicken Wings This deeply satisfying shoyu duck broth.  So good.  Interesting to have a non-chicken clear broth.  The duck broth is gorgeously rich without being fatty, bright and complex, something you just want to keep sipping on a chilly day.  The runny egg, creamy, just melts in your mouth.Houseofhaos Mu Ramen LIC New York Duck Broth Shoyu house-of-haos-mu-ramen-lic-shoyu-duck-closeupI don’t remember what this tonkotsu-looking bowl was – maybe the Mu Ramen?  At that point, my mind was already a little mushy from deliciousness.

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Mu Ramen (menu)
1209 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101

New York Ramen Quest 1.0

In the past year or so of New York City life, I’ve made a small pilgrimage around the city to try some of New York’s finest (and most hyped) ramen offerings.  As you’ll see, I’m still missing quite a few notable exceptions (Ganso, Takashi, Chuko, Minca, Yuji, Ramen.Co, and mainstays like Momofuku and Menchanko Tei), but here are my favorites to date, in general order of preference.

Ramen Sanshiro (open late-nite only, 249 E 49th St, near 2nd Ave, Yelp, Google Maps)

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In a ramen landscape overcrowded with rich, tonkotsu-driven broth, Sanshiro’s late-night shio ramen is a tremendous breath of fresh air.  There’s a nostalgic fragrance to the soup (for me at least), intensely satisfying and full of umami, chicken broth that manages to be flavorful without being greasy or reliant on onions.  Running on fumes or adrenaline after a night out, or just getting into the city post-commute, the bowl can conquer a midnight craving without completely destroying your ambulatory capabilities in the way that a heavy dose of pork bone on high heat would.  The noodles are half-way between the angelhair’d twirls of Hakata-style ramen and the thick, springy curls, accompanied by a runny half-egg and a slice of deeply caramelized chashu pork.

Hide-Chan (248 E 52nd St, near 2nd Ave, Yelp, Google Maps, website)

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Like Ippudo, the noodles here are the distinct Hakata-style, thin and hard, much the way I prefer my ramen most of the time.  I didn’t care for the black garlic ramen that I had on my first visit here, but I gave this narrow second-story shop a second chance.  On my next stop, I ordered the Kogashi shoyu katsuo ramen, which was deliciously fishy (katsuo is bonito) and light, almost sweet.  I added a seasoned egg, bamboo shoots, & chipped garlic (these are good, in moderation) to go along with two fatty discs of chashu.  I realize that my top two choices are not tonkotsu-based, but lighter broths are more in my wheelhouse.  Perhaps it has to do with a brainwashing from Chinese noodle soups, which predominantly feature lighter broths, but without getting too Freudian in my self-analysis, I just emphatically enjoy a powerfully flavored soup that doesn’t feel like a gut punch of fat.

Mu Ramen (tbd, Long Island City, Twitter, Menu)

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Lest I forget my manners, nobody puts baby in the corner.  By baby, I mean tonkotsu pork broth ramen, and I don’t know what I mean by corner, but Mu Ramen’s Tonkotsu 2.0 is a pretty tasty version.  The broth is a two-day labor of love, with some ridiculously scientific hodge-podge of pork parts (not to say that the Japanese chains’ versions aren’t).  My broken-record appreciation for a lighter-bodied tonkotsu is a key reason for why I liked Mu so much – I had room enough after a pork belly steamed bun, some shishito peppers (with yuzu salt), and a bowl of Tonkotsu 2.0 to walk back to the deserted L stop, which is not something I could say with a bowl of Akamaru Modern.  The pork jowl makes for a great alternative to traditional chashu, and much preferred (stemming from my early ramen-crazy days in Los Angeles getting fat on Santouka’s special pork) I had a bowl when Mu Ramen was still in pop-up mode in Bricktown Bagels in Long Island City (they are currently prepping a brick-and-mortar location of their own).

Now, there are quite a few other bowls I quite enjoy and have gotten multiple times, since the above places are sometimes a bit hard to reach, especially now that I live in Hell’s Kitchen.  They are: Continue reading

Tsukemen TETSU – Shinatatsu Ramen Plaza, Tokyo

Near the Shinagawa JR station (and in the general vicinity of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel), there is a “Ramen Road,” otherwise known as the Shinatatsu Ramen Plaza, a collection of ramen shops that runs along the sidewalk.

While we waited for our airport train (of course we chose a later train to give us time to visit Shinatatsu), we stopped by for a fill-up.  I’d already decided in advance on a bowl of tsukemen from Tetsu, but that didn’t spare me from the agony I felt walking past each of the other six ramen shops before reaching the safe haven at the end of the block (that would be Tetsu).House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Outside

According to Ramen Walker, Tetsu’s contribution to the innovation and popularization of tsukemen, which used to be served cold (a summertime noodle dish), was to serve the dipping broth hot.  Whatever associative body that hands out awards for tsukemen gave Tetsu the nod for best tsukemen in 2008 and 2009, according to the Tokyo Times.

We had a slight wait when we got there, having been just beat out by a smattering of salarymen, but we got our tickets for two orders of the house special chashu tsukemen.  Once we got seated, the staff snatched up our tickets and we watched the line action behind the counter.

House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan 1 House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan 2 House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Condiments Our tsukemen arrived in three parts.

House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Chashu TsukemenThe noodles were wide and chewy, perfect for the thick, deeply emulsified tonkotsu broth, which was supremely funky, fatty and fishy (all of those attributes are good, by the way).  Aromatically, there was a strong dose of bonito and perhaps other seafood in the broth, which appeals to my personal taste but also helps balance out the richness of the tonkotsu base.House of Haos Tetsu Ramen Alley Shinogawa Tokyo Japan Tsukemen Noodles Continue reading

Burnt Miso Ramen at Gogyo – Roppongi, Tokyo

Our efforts trying to locate Gogyo, from just a few blocks away from where we were staying in Roppongi, seem to have mirrored Matt Gross’ logistical befuddlement, and contributed during that brief moment to the anticipation and excitement of a bowl of burnt miso ramen, the mini-chain’s calling card.

When at last we found it, across from a US army base, just as ramen blogger Ramen Adventures advertised, we were just ahead of the lunchtime rush, and even then we had to wait for ten minutes.

These were ten minutes we would gladly wait again and again for some of these gloriously wonderful ramen (and some appetizing side dishes, especially the karaage):

House of Haos Gogyo Roppongi Tokyo Japan Burnt Miso Ramen Set House of Haos Gogyo Roppongi Tokyo Japan Burnt Miso Ramen House of Haos Gogyo Roppongi Tokyo Japan Burnt Miso Ramen 2The pork was much smaller and more belly-like in consistency, on par with Santouka’s special pork (which is pork neck), albeit cut less delicately.  The burnt miso was tremendous, adding just the right level of salt and savory to the surfaces to which it clung (with a gentle brush of spice and an afterthought of bitterness for further complexity).  Thin noodles made the slurping part easier, punctuated by robust stalks of menma (bamboo shoots) and a runny half-egg.

The karaage fried chicken was also tasty, with a dry, uneven breading that I really appreciated for not encumbering the chicken.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my breading as much as the next man, but this was just really nicely done.House of Haos Gogyo Roppongi Tokyo Japan Karaage Fried ChickenStare into my eyes (said the bowl of remnants of tonkotsu broth and burnt miso dredges)…House of Haos Gogyo Roppongi Tokyo Japan Burnt Miso Ramen Broth

Go Ramen! says Gogyo is from a larger parent company that spawned Hakata Ippudo and the Shinyokohama Raumen Museum, and while I haven’t been to the latter, I can definitely see the similarities in noodle style (and to an extent in the richness of the broth) between Ippudo and Gogyo.  That is a good thing.

Nishiazabu Gogyo
Rojiman Nishiazabu 1F
1-4-36, Nishiazabu, Minato ward, Tokyo
Tel:03-5775-5566

Fuunji – Shinjuku, Tokyo

Initially, Kavita and I came for Fuunji’s renowned tsukemen, a plate of noodles with a small bowl of thick sauce for dipping.  Then my complete lack of any Japanese language whatsoever finally became an issue when neither of the tickets that I chose from the vending machine turned out to be tsukemen.  Oops?DSC_0591But at Fuunji, it didn’t really matter.  The house special ramen was phenomenal, with a mindnumbing depth of fishy, brothy richness.  Topped with a generous dose of chopped scallions, the bowl arrived steaming hot with a few fatty slices of pork and crunchy bamboo shoots, as well as an oil-sheened egg.  I churned the noodles a bit, took one slurp-bite, and literally did not look up until I was finished.

House of Haos Fuunji Shibuya Tokyo Ramen Continue reading

Afuri – Late Nite Ramen in Ebisu

After a seemingly unending bus ride into Tokyo from Narita, I set foot in brightly-lit Shinjuku, my first foray into the mysterious and alluring destination of Japan.  I waited for my friend Lucas, whose apartment in Ebisu I was crashing.

After navigating through the confusion that is Shinjuku station, we took one of the second-to-last trains to Ebisu.  Apparently the second-to-last trains in Tokyo are different than the last trains in Tokyo.  Slightly lower levels of collective intoxication than the last gasp of degenerates and suits rushing home to avoid having to sleep propped up against a newspaper stand.

I followed Lucas through the narrow Ebisu streets until we got to Afuri, a little ramen shop on a quiet lane.  I was starving, having skipped my onboard meal in favor of this upcoming introduction to Japanese ramen.  Or at least one version of shoyu ramen.

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There’d been a lot of hype building up to this event, from friends and food blogs and anime series and previous trips to Ippudo and Santouka, not to mention late nights of Nissin packets and Shin cups.  Still, in Japan, the feeling I got more often than not was the anxiety from not having nearly enough time to explore and taste all the different masterful incarnations of (fill in the blank).

Like many other ramen shops, we ordered from a vending machine that spits out a ticket based on what the eater selects from the labeled buttons.  Lucas selected a bowl of shoyu ramen with char siu, egg, and bamboo shoots, and for himself a bowl of pork rice.

DSC_0098 DSC_0099The soup was unique, very light but smoky, the same strong smokiness as the pork had.  The egg practically melted in my mouth, in contrast to the freshness and crispness of the greens and bamboo.  I slurped the thin noodles hungrily, happy to finally be at the beginning of the upcoming week and a half of Japanese wanderlusting (and gastronomic bliss).

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Jonesing for Japanese – Shanghai

Shanghai’s been a bit of a non sequitur when it comes to non-Chinese ethnic food.  Most days, I’m eating Chinese food, in one form or another.  But then, sometimes, it’ll be Japanese one day, then a poorly made Brioche Dorée quiche the next, the rare Thai meal, and the inevitable hamburger.  This destabilization in routine made me realize how often I used to eat Japanese, at least while I was in LA.  There, I had a full, established array of oft-visited places, each with its own specialized purpose: Furaibo for izakaya-style plates and oddities, Yabu for soba and udon, Santouka for ramen, and Sushi Zo and Sugarfish for sushi.

Here in Shanghai, I haven’t been quite as fortunate, in part due to the change in quality and quantity of Japanese restaurants in more proximate, non-Gubei areas of Shanghai, and in part due to my distracted effort, or lack thereof, made so far to properly canvass my neighborhood for approvable Japanese fare.  It requires some real dedication.  The process of moving to and settling in a new city, from a food perspective, seems to involve this undisciplined cycle:

(1) obsession – “I will fight a bear for Taiwanese beef noodles”

(2) type A discontent / overeating / coming to one’s senses – “I think these soup dumplings are making my blood hurt”

(3) lament / type B discontent, mixed with pointed and frustrated reference to favorite foods in previously inhabited cities – “ugh, I wish there was a good meatball sub around here”

(4) exploration – “oh, hey, so many Italian places near my house”

(5) understanding / common ground / resignation – “I guess this won’t be as good as the pasta in Milan” or “I probably won’t have any fried chicken in Shanghai like that one time when the former chef from Ad Hoc made it for us,” which leads immediately too, “oh hey there, KFC spicy wings.”

It’s not necessarily in that order every time, or maybe it’s more a subtle progression.

Retroactively, last weekend marked the beginning of a long-overdue foray away into the gritty exploration part, the part that tends to be the most discouraging.  I say retrospectively because I didn’t intentionally eat Japanese three out of the last five days, but after a long birthday dinner of sushi and cake on Wednesday, I had to call it like I saw it.  The sushi dinner will be a different post, but the past week has entailed a fair amount of ramen.  The first two bowls were at a nondescript yakitoriya-slash-noodle house whose name I didn’t bother to write down, squeezed on the second floor between Caliburger and a 7-Elevent, a lower-key alternative to the up-the-street Sushi Abuse.

Spicy chashao ramen with fried egg, sprouts, and enoki

Salt ramen with fatty pork, omelette, and bamboo shoots

The remaining (unphotographed) dishes came off the yakitori menu: a variety of skewers (chicken skin, chicken and green onion, quail egg, pork belly, bacon & tomato), pork gyoza, chicken karaage, and miso soup.  The food was not remarkable, but it was not sloppy either, and a welcome addition to the neighborhood roster of possibilities.

Next, I took a Tuesday night walk with Myra to another Japanese diner, this one a few blocks north of our usual hangouts.  The humble eatery had a similar menu of soups, rice bowls, boiled and fried foods, and yakitori – with a name I remembered, albeit more for its quirkiness than anything else: Tokyo Monkeys.

Chashao ramen with tea egg and sprouts

An Asian friend of Myra’s from New York turned her into a fan of noodle soup, which was a rather fortuitous development, because  it’s such a staple item, in all its incarnations (Taiwanese beef noodle soup, Nanzhou hand-drawn noodles, ramen, Canto wonton noodle soup, etc.).  For my part, as much as I like noodle soups, I’ve always been bad about finishing the noodles, however delicious.  I’d get through the bamboo, the seaweed, all the “special pork” cheek slices at Santouka, the miso soup, even if it had chili powder – but rarely have I cleaned out the noodles.  First world problems.

We got a few other things: gyoza, potato salad, clams with garlic and pepper (although with too much pepper).  For my main, I went with a bowl of chicken teriyaki.

Chicken teriyaki with rice

I’m not sure if the green onion stalks are par for the course, but the texture was a nice departure from the sauce-heavy versions I was used to in America.  Rice bowls weren’t a go-to item for me before China – they had that university-cafeteria fodder, bad Japanese strip mall restaurant staples, with that grocery store prepared-food lamp-heater kind of stigma.  They were items relegated to back-of-menu and rarely ordered, or when ordered, immediately drowned in sweet chili sauce.  But since I got to China, not only are Japanese rice bowls more common and more palatable, so are all the Chinese rice dishes that my favorite Philadelphia food trucks churned out.  Greasy ladle-fuls of pungent sauce poured over a bed of white rice.  That element skipped my stay in LA, or rather, I’m sure it existed in some faraway corridor of San Gabriel Valley, but there was nothing to rival, say, the hot chicken-eggplant from the scowling owner of Yue Kee, barking whether I wanted hot sauce or not.

Of course I want the hot sauce, you crazy cat lady.

As for Shanghai, each of my lunch trips to Shan Shan involves squinting at a wall-mounted menu of Chinese lettering, dozens of little placards with names of soup, dumplings, noodles, and rice dishes.  I rehearse my order a few times before venturing ahead in the line.  There is the requisite grumpy Chinese teller lady with her washed out perm, with whom it seems like you have only a very limited number of questions in your lifetime that you’re ever allowed to ask her regarding the menu (“do you have anything like soy-sauce braised pork?” or “what kinds of wontons do you have?”), and each of those questions to her seems unfathomably stupid.  I learned quickly to specify whether I want the large wontons or the small ones, and that the twice-cooked pork rice is a reasonable substitute for hongshaorou.