Tag Archives: japanese food

Mifune

I was invited into Mifune with my wife to sample some of their meat dishes and post some photos on Instagram. But we started with some cocktails, because Shingo Gokan, the man behind the cocktail menu, is an award winning “mixologist.”

This is the Seven Samurai, which is made with rye, aged sake, East India sherry, bitters and smoke:

Pretty beautiful, and really tasty. The smoke aroma was as intoxicating as the booze, and it was similar to a smoked old fashioned.

The Throne of Blood is made with Japanese whisky, Bourbon Antica, Torino and bitters. This is similar to a Manhattan.

The Hidden Fortress, made with bourbon, milk, honey shrub, orange cordial and bitters, is super smooth and tasty.

Finally, we tried the Drunken Angel, made with Hibiki, Umeshu and shiso. This was also great. Very light and crisp.

Now on to the food. The first thing we tried was the steak tartare.

This is made with Angus beef, poached egg and tosazu sauce (a seafood style vinegar). Watch the video as the egg breaks into the tartare:

It was delicious. More like a beef tartare soup – very interesting.

This next item was on special: bluefin tuna temaki. It’s a rib section of bluefin tuna, served with seashells for scraping the meat out and making hand rolls with all the fixings.

Check out this video. Pretty insane!

At just $40, this is a great deal. We probably got about 10 or 12 hand rolls out of this baby.

Okay now on to the meats! First, a straw smoked rack of lamb!

The lamb was perfectly cooked to medium rare.

It came with roasted garlic and grilled fennel. But the real treat about this dish is that when it comes to the table for eating, it’s served in a clay dish that has a smoking chamber underneath, so you get to smell that awesome straw smoke aroma the whole time while you eat.

Next up was washugyu tenderloin.

Washugyu is an American Black Angus and Japanese Wagyu cross breed that achieves a great balance of beefy flavor and tender marbling. This is the same stuff I sell in my shop, pretty much. Anyway, it was incredibly tender and flavorful. They got a nice sear on the meat too. 9/10.

It’s plated up with a shallot puree and some roasted veggies.

This was easily one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. I highly recommend this place, especially for that bluefin tuna temaki. You should go ASAP if you have any interest, because I don’t know how long that will be available on special.

MIFUNE
245 E 44th St
New York, NY 10017

Oka

NOTE: THIS PLACE IS NOW CLOSED

Some of you might remember my recent review of The Crimson Sparrow, up in Hudson, NY.

That was one of the best meals I had all year in 2017. Well, now the Chef/Owner has a Japanese-inspired small plates izakaya joint over in Murray Hill called Oka, and the meal I just ate there is likely to be one of the best meals I will have this year.

A little bit about Chef John McCarthy, which I have shamelessly jacked from the Oka Website:

John is a former lawyer who left a legal career to attend the French Culinary Institute. After graduating from FCI at the top of his class, he worked for Chef Wylie Dufresne at wd-50 for several years, ultimately becoming Chef Wylie’s research and development cook. John is also a certified sake sommelier, and has spent a considerable amount of time in Asia. He lived in South Korea for three years when he was in high school, and he typically travels to Japan at least once a year to either stagiaire or travel for food and drink research and development. For the past two years, he has partnered with Chef Hiroyoshi Amano to prepare two dinners for Outstanding in the Field at the foot of Mt. Fuji for Fujisan Winery.

Not only does he know his way around sake, but he has also crafted some really nice cocktails and curated an impressive selection of spirits as well.

In addition to the impressive cocktail and spirits menu, there’s also a really great happy hour from 5:30-7:00, during which the listed items are just $5.

I was happy to see one of my favorite Japanese beers on that menu, Orion:

Okay so let me get down to business. My wife and I tried a bunch of stuff here. Everything on the menu looked so good that it was really difficult to decide what NOT to order.

Okay so first, the baguette:

This unassuming dish was a great way to open up the meal. The shio kombu butter with smoked salt was wild and invigorating, and the perfectly grill-toasted Balthazar bread was excellent and fresh.

We actually dragged some of it through our second plate, which was the salmon roe with yeasted sunchoke puree and sunchoke chips.

I’m in love with all things sunchoke, so I jumped at this right away. This dish would make for a perfect light breakfast. It was just the right balance of smooth from the puree, pop from the roe, and crunch from the chips.

Just when you thought a Caesar salad couldn’t get exciting, John McCarthy serves you one that is.

This is Romaine lettuce with smoked Caesar dressing, nori panko, anchovy, crispy baked parmesan chips, and shaved, dried bonito flakes. For those of you who are all about that nice fish flavor in a proper Caesar salad, this is all you. It was bonkers.

Next up, steak tartare.

This was easily one of the best tartare dishes I’ve ever had. It stands out among the competition for its notably unique flavor profile. Chef John brilliantly swaps out some of the more standard tartare ingredients for things like pine nuts, gochujang and shiitake to bring this traditionally French dish into his Asian comfort zone.

This next dish was simple but so delicious. Deep fried maitake mushroom, seasoned with za’atar and served atop a smoked dijon mustard sauce. If for some fucked up reason I ever have to give up meat, I would need to consume a lot more fungus like this to try to fill the void. It was meaty, savory, and satiating.

This is grilled baby squid with charcoal garlic oil, kewpie mayo and micro daikon.

The charcoal garlic oil was really something special here. Very simple cook on the squid, but lots of complexity in the sauce.

These giant grilled head-on prawns were massive!

The simple preparation of soy, ponzu and citrus salt allowed them to really shine for the superb products that they are. Make sure you suck the juices out of their heads!

I really dig rice cakes. This Korean version is like gnocchi, only made with rice flour instead of semolina and egg.

This preparation is kinda like mac and cheese; it’s baked with creamy white cheddar and garlic oil, and then topped with spicy cod roe. It might sound weird, but this and the tartare were my favorite dishes of the night! These were like little pillows of chewy goodness with a touch of crunch on the outside, all in a velvety cheese sauce.

Hamachi collar.

There was so much meat on this baby, and every bit of it was juicy and bursting with flavor. I’m convinced this is the best part of the fish. I loved every bite, and it went well with the soy and yuzu lemon zest seasoning that was on it.

This next beautiful and tasty dish is fried rice with pickled mustard greens and mustard seed. Nothing goes better with fried rice than a sunny side up egg. Bur seriously, how gorgeous is this?

The hits just keep on coming. Buttermilk fried chicken:

All the best, most tender parts here. And that dipping sauce is a chili and black sesame mayo. Really nice.

STEAK!

This was a 30-day dry aged Niman ranch cut, which was grilled up and served with a nice house spice made with dried mushrooms and a bunch of other umami bomb type ingredients. Really flavorful!

And last but not least, dessert:

These are Chinese fried dough crullers with white caramel ice cream on a bed of chocolate coffee crumble. Such a dynamic and interesting combination of flavors.

In fact that’s kind of the theme running through the entire meal. Every bite keeps you guessing, and every dish is not only visually arresting, but amazingly tasty as well.

One final note about this place: I love how casual it is. The food is all stunning and delicious, but there is no pretense or attitude. There’s plenty of space to stretch out between tables, unlike other crowded izakaya spots around the city.

There’s also some great bar seating as well.

I highly recommend this place. Get over there and give it a try.

OKA
439 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10016

Secchu Yokota

My wife’s birthday is just around the corner, and her friends were taking her to dinner here to celebrate. When one of them had to cancel last minute, I filled in to avoid the $50 charge on the credit card for a missed seating.

This joint only has eight seats and two seatings per night (6:00pm and 8:30pm), so that’s why they charge your card if you bail on a seat. Harsh, but understandable. They have to fill up to make money.

Anyway, this was a long and tasty meal, consisting mostly of Japanese tempura. It wasn’t the prettiest food for photos, but it certainly was yummy!

Here’s what we had – and keep in mind I’m just going to list the dishes and then quickly blab about the items that really stood out.

Red snapper broth with mushrooms.

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Red snapper sashimi: this was really delicate and clean, and it went perfectly with the shio-bonito ponzu and wasabi salt, which were provided for dipping.

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They also gave us pickled daikon and a bamboo charcoal salt as well, which was equally excellent, and apparently helpful in digestion due to the charcoal.

Berkshire pork pate. Very nice, and notably French!

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Now we are getting into the tempura. The fryer oil they use is a blend of sesame oil and cotton seed oil, which has a very high smoking point, great for super crispy batters and fast frying.

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Crispy shrimp shell. Yes – the exoskeleton! I joked and said that we ate crispy fried xenomorph face-hugger exoskeleton (that’s an Alien reference if you’re unaware).

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Shrimp body.

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Okra: really flavorful and fresh. The tempura batter was almost like a second skin on the veggie, just crispy.

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Yellow pepper.

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Mackerel.

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Eggplant.

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Lotus root.

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Hokkaido squid. In fact everything here is actually FROM Japan.

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Sweet potato.

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Hokkaido scallops: These were almost raw, and absolutely delicious. Just the outside was cooked from the closeness of the flesh to the hot oil. My favorite bite of the night.

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Eel.

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Uni (sea urchin) wrapped in nori (seaweed) paper: very creamy. If uni is your thing, then this is the place to get it. I’m still a hit or miss guy when it comes to uni. I think I like it best when served cold (like revenge), with no seaweed paper.

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To finish the savory courses off, you get a choice between the following two items:

(1) Rice with red snapper bits and a hearty miso/mushroom soup.

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(I didn’t shoot the soup)

(2) Green tea soba noodles with eel.

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This was so fucking beautiful, and was probably my second favorite dish of the night. It came with a dipping sauce as well (I didn’t shoot that but I did take another photo of the noodles).

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Dessert was a raspberry sorbet with a sesame crisp, and a yuzu creme brulee. Both were simple but excellent.

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Lastly, I apologize for the poor photos. I didn’t bother to color correct when I got home. I mainly just focused my photo editing efforts on that beautiful soba dish because I knew I was going to post it on Instagram.

All in, this was a great meal, albeit a bit pricey. The uni and eel tempura items were add-ons that really bumped up the cost. Also drinks: They’re always bill killers. But I definitely recommend giving this place a shot. There aren’t too many Japanese joints doing real deal tempura omakase in this low price range ($65/pp to start).

SECCHU YOKOTA
199 East 3rd Street
1st Floor, New York, NY 10009

Mr. Taka

Mr. Taka is easily one of the best bowls of tonkotsu I’ve had in NYC. The thick, rich pork broth manages to be full of porky flavor without going overboard with the salt content or overpowering you with too much garlic. It’s velvety smooth – no off-putting textures, which can sometimes happen with thickened broths.

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The meat quality is awesome. Super soft with a good char on the outside of each slab. It falls apart between your chopsticks. So good. I recommend getting an additional slab, since your bowl will only come with one if you don’t.

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The noodles are the straight kind, not wavy, and if you order the spicy version you get a soft boiled egg and a normal sized blob of spicy paste that won’t overrun the entire eating experience with heat.

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I highly recommend this joint for all your slurping needs. It really is as close to perfect as you’re going to get.

MR. TAKA
170 Allen St
New York, NY 10002

Natsumi Tapas

When I see something that’s marketed as Japanese-Italian fusion, the first thing that comes to my mind is Super Mario Brothers, one of the best video games ever released by Nintendo.

From http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net
From http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net

But now, since having this meal, the next thing that comes to mind is Natsumi Tapas. Natsumi is the latest venture by Barbara Matsumara, and it focuses on small plates for grazing and larger plates for sharing. She consulted with Italian chef Andrea Tiberi and sushi chef Hiroyuki Nagao to create a dynamic menu that gets increasingly interesting the more you look at it. I was invited in for a press meal with Jay from The Dishelin Guide, so we got to taste a lot of stuff. Here’s what we had:

First, a nice pour of sake from this very cool bottle that houses the ice inside the center without touching the sake and thereby watering it down.

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This place also mixes up some really nice cocktails too, by the way, like the EMW, which is made with shiso leaf, sake and gin.

We started with this filet mignon, which was served sliced, tataki style, with a ponzu, garlic and truffle sauce. The truffle and garlic really brought an awesome fusion flavor to an otherwise Japanese flavored dish. While this wasn’t a traditional “steak” in the sense of a steakhouse cut or portion size, I’m still going to score it since it was worth discussing. 8/10. I definitely recommend this dish.

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Next up was the tuna tartare martini with avocado and caviar. The orange layer at the bottom definitely had some tobiko mixed in for a nice change-up in texture. Very smart. The mango and basil pesto sauce really made this pop with unorthodox and surprisingly good flavor combinations. Also recommended.

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While the flatbread wasn’t exactly the pizza dough crust that I imagined (it was more like a puffy cracker), it did pack a lot of flavor. We tried the spicy tuna caviar flatbread. It wasn’t as much of a fusion as some of the others seemed to be, like the seared salmon flatbread, but it was really delicious nonetheless. If you’ve ever had “sushi pizza” before at some other restaurants, it is somewhat similar to that, and always a crowd-pleaser.

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This bowl of green tea gnocchi with asparagus and capers in a light butter sauce was absolutely perfect. Definitely my favorite item of the night, by far. While it leaned a bit more on the Italian side, it was probably one of the better gnocchi dishes I’ve had in town. The green tea flavor was very mild, but the sauce was drinkable. I highly recommend this dish when you go here. Not only was it tasty, but it was also beautiful.

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We finished our savory courses with the Squarano roll; seared tuna, seared salmon, kani, avocado, scallion, pepperoncini and green tea aioli. This was pretty tasty, and nicely nestled into the fusion realm with the addition of an aioli and pepperoncini from Italian cuisine. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of their special roll selections. They all looked great.

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For dessert we tried the cheese cake tempura, which was nice and crispy outside, and soft like mashed potatoes inside. It had just the right amount of sweetness, and the berry compote on the plate was the perfect way to incorporate a sauce element.

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Definitely give this place a shot. It just opened in March and the place was packed to the gills when we went on a Tuesday night at 7pm. The ambiance is comfortable, not too dim, not too bright, not too loud and very spacious, which is a welcome addition to the NYC Japanese restaurant world.

NATSUMI TAPAS
323 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10010

Jin Ramen (UWS)

My wife and I popped in here for a Sunday lunch when the line for Jacob’s Pickles was wrapped down Amsterdam and we had absolutely zero desire to wait it out. We’d been to the Harlem Jin location in the past and liked it, so we knew we’d most likely enjoy the UWS location as well.

I was in the mood for cold ramen, since it was pretty hot outside. They offered two styles, but I ended up going with a nice cold salmon and roe soba noodle dish instead.

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This shit was delicious, and so beautiful.

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Top quality sushi grade salmon, tasty, briny roe (I think it was trout roe as opposed to salmon roe), and fresh microgreens topped the perfectly cooked cold soba noodles. It came with a cup of sauce to either dip or pour on top, as well as a mixed greens side salad.

My wife went with a Kakuni ramen dish, which featured Filipino style braised pork belly and a poached egg.

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That’s a huge block of pork belly! The broth was tasty without being too salty, which was nice even on a hot day (I tasted some after it had cooled down a bit). The egg was perfectly poached and the noodles were perfectly cooked.

We also tried some refreshing Japanese cocktails and pork buns.

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The pork buns were excellent, with the exception that I dislike scallions that are shredded long ways instead of sliced on the bias. I found myself picking them off the bun.

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Note the scallions on my wife’s Kakuni ramen were sliced the way that I prefer.

JIN RAMEN (UWS)
462 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10024

Zundo-ya

NOTE: THIS PLACE IS CLOSED!

Every so often you find a joint that blows all of your expectations for a particular dish out of the water. Zundo-ya is one of those places.

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The folks at Tabelog just held a small tasting event at Zundo-ya’s first US location, nestled in the crux between Union Square and the East Village – literally right around the corner from Ippudo. While Ippudo is great, and may be the spot that’s on more peoples’ ramen radar, Zundo-ya is where all those people should actually be going instead. I’m dead serious. This is my new favorite ramen spot.

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Zundo-ya has about 20 locations in Japan, but what makes them stand out here in the crowded NYC ramenscape is the concept of bowl customization. Very few places feature anything that has been truly customized by the diner outside of toppings and add-ons. Here, you can also designate how intense or rich you’d like your broth (thickness, pork fat flavor, etc) and which kind of noodle you prefer (thin, straight; thick, wavy). While many joints may occasionally allow you to swap out a noodle style from what’s listed on the menu, that first metric – broth intensity/richness – is absolutely key for true ramen aficionados.

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All too often I order a bowl of tonkotsu ramen and what comes to the table is a watered down, thin, weak-flavored bowl of dish water. That’s pure crap, especially these days, when we seem to be regularly paying upwards of $15 for a bowl. That problem is solved here. Simply order your broth rich or super rich.

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I went all-in, with the Zenbunose ramen, which is a tonkotsu ramen with all of the available toppings.

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I ordered this thing super rich, and with thick wavy noodles.

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While $18 is a bit steep for ramen, I feel this bowl is truly satisfying and fulfilling. It comes with an extra helping of super tender roasted and caramelized chashu pork, a full and deliciously cured soft boiled egg, scallions, bean sprouts, garlic chips, dried seaweed and a blob of spicy paste. The base level version of this, without all the extras, is just $13. That’s not bad at all.

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The broth was thick, almost to the level of a velvety chowder or cream-based soup in texture. The fat and salt content wasn’t overwhelming, but it was most certainly present, which is exactly what I want from my ramen. This stuff’ll make you sweat, and it’ll make your heart rate spike, but it is so worth it. The noodles were perfectly cooked and had a good stretch/snap to them as well.

I cooled off with these two excellent Kagua beers. One was darker, less filtered and had a slightly hoppy flavor (the red label), while the other was light, easy to drink and a little less cloudy (white label).

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Not only is the ramen great, but this joint also serves up some fantastic sides and salads. This first one comes with bits of pork and cured egg on the edge of the bowl. Really nice touch, and a smart use of ingredients that overlap with the contents of the ramen.

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The spicy fried shrimp salad was highly addictive too. The shrimp were nicely cooked with a light and crunchy batter.

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And take a look at these buns! These are the very delicious spicy ra-yu pork belly buns, but they also offer a sweeter teriyaki style as well (also good). I’m usually not psyched about bun items in general, but these were pretty good because there was enough meat stuffed inside to balance out the bun with a good ratio.

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The stand out starter for me, though, was the karaage; crispy fried chicken. This chicken is so tender that it’ll make you want to stab someone. And what happens when you dip these babies into the little blob of spicy mayo and dry seasonings that come with an order or karaage? Nothing short of an intense flavor explosion in your pie-hole of a mouth.

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We even tried a little bit of dessert. This was ice cream with a soft mochi-like rice cake. The ice cream tasted like a really good Carvel soft serve vanilla, which is high compliments since that is my favorite thing on the planet for dessert.

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I’m really excited about this place. And so is Tabelog. And Zundo-ya is excited that us blogger fools are excited as well; so much so that they’re giving out free gyoza (fried dumplings) to anyone who comes in between now and August 15th, 2016 and mentions “Tabelog” when ordering. Do it. I know I’ll definitely be back, especially given the fact that, unlike so many other NYC ramen joints, this place actually has elbow room and a comfortable amount of dining space.

ZUNDO-YA
84 E 10th St
New York, NY 10003

I Noodles

This relatively new ramen joint just offered up a Groupon deal that included two bowls of ramen for $19.

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We tried the tonkotsu (pork) and beef bowls. Both were a little bit weak in terms of broth strength, and the noodles themselves were a bit too soft/overcooked. The beef bowl came with straight alkali noodles, two slices of beef short rib, bamboo shoots, corn, cabbage, green onions and bean sprouts.

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The broth had more of a Chinese soup flavor as opposed to the characteristic Japanese flavors you might normally associate with ramen. The meat was tender, but I think the use of cabbage watered down the broth too much and took away from what was meant to be a more full, thick and murky stock.

The better of the two was the tonkotsu, mainly because it came with seasoned boiled egg, which was the best part about both bowls of ramen here.

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The pork meat was better too, and this came with mushrooms as well as the bamboo shoots, corn and green onion. The noodles in this were wavy egg style.

They offer a good happy hour with $3 beer and $5 wine, which is cool, but outside of using a Groupon I am not sure this place is ultimately worth your while. At full price I would have been annoyed at the quality, but since it was only $19 for two bowls it didn’t hurt as much. Caveat Emptor.

INOODLES
150 W 36th St
New York, NY 10018

Ramen Setagaya

I’ve been meaning to check this place out for a while and finally got around to it this afternoon.

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I went with the miso ramen based on the waitress’ suggestion between this and one other bowl I was considering.

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It was okay. The broth was a bit bland, likely due to the cabbage watering it down a bit. But the egg was perfect, the pork was really nicely cooked (although only two small pieces was a slight bummer), the bamboo shoots were fresh and tasty, the wavy egg noodles were cooked properly, and the scallions were nicely chopped rather than shredded. I think if the broth punches up a little, and if you order this without cabbage, it would be a better bowl of noodles.

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RAMEN SETAGAYA
34 St Marks Pl
New York, NY 10003

Donburiya

This joint used to be on the east side, but that spot closed. It recently reopened with a revamped menu on west 55th near 8th.

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We started with some pork items. First was the not-so-awesome “grilled” bacon with blue cheese. An odd item to grace the menu of a Japanese joint, granted, but we were hoping for more crisp and less stringy/rubbery texture.

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The better pork item was the yongen-ton kakani, which was silky simmered pork belly. This was fucking delicious, and reminded my wife and I of the clay pot casserole style Vietnamese dish from Cha Pas. This is a definite must-order for any of you bacon heads.

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For my ramen, I ordered the nagahama fu tonkotsu. It is pork-based, with good firm alkaline noodles (LOTS of noodles – like an extra kae-dama amount), some pickled ginger, sesame seeds, scallions and one very tasty piece of pork.

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I liked it very much. It was moderately robust without overwhelming the taste buds. And for $11 it is fair, though I wish there was at least another piece of pork in there.

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My wife ordered the onsen tamago sukiyaki udon, which was gingery and nicely cooked udon noodles in a sweet broth that had beef and a poached egg within. Nice, but the ramen was better.

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DONBURIYA
253 W. 55th St.
New York, NY 10019