Noodles Like No Other
The allure of the Japanese noodle bar is manifold. It’s diners in the mist, the broth smoke adding window-fogging sultriness. It’s the collective easing of formal dining rules, as everyone is expected to slurp their food. The national trend started a decade ago in NYC with places like Rai Rai Ken and Minca. The top noodle haunts here are easy to spot—just look for the Soviet-era line filled with stylishly famished food bloggers. Of course, some of these noodle bars can be a tad shabby, if not outright skeezy—wee-hour pain-relief cuisine for pickled-liver drunks. Those are not the places that we are concerning ourselves with. Our focus is on the New York establishments that provide a decidedly more upscale experience.
Breaking the Chain
Yes, it’s a Japanese chain, but fret not—there’s nary a whiff of Olive Garden monotony about Ippudo. You enter at the bar, where you might impress your friends and colleagues by imparting some piece of ramen wisdom, such as “The best ramen broth depends on kansui—an alkaline mineral water that raises the pH level.” If they ask further questions, order drinks. As for the ramen, Ippudo offers two choices: the original shiromaru (white miso, Berkshire pork) and akamaru (red miso, black garlic oil, Berkshire pork). We suggest the latter.
By day, Ramen Sanshiro doesn’t exist, but when the clock strikes 11 pm, the owners of SEO sushi restaurant hang a red Japanese lantern above their door, the sign to noodle lovers that the “secret” ramen bar is open. Ramen Sanshiro only serves it two ways—shio (salt) or shoyu (garlicky soy)—and the broth is renowned for its light, almost chicken soup–like flavor. Of course, both varieties are served with pieces of pork belly, which is to Japanese noodle bars what veal is to Italian food. Sanshiro serves until 3 am or whenever they run out, which can be as “early” as 1 am. Our advice: Get there closer to open than to close.
What a Prospect
The world-famous chef Masaharu Morimoto probably wasn’t overjoyed when three of his top chefs broke off in 2011 to open their own noodle joint in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood. Chuko Ramen is the fine-dining vets’ ode to clean, simple Japanese traditions, with a brilliant kale salad (some raw leaf, some tempura battered, all in a ginger-miso vinaigrette) and one of the most lauded vegetarian ramens in NYC. The veg comes with Brussels sprouts, kale, and sweet potatoes. Add a soft-boiled egg, and even the most carnivorous will be happy.
Anarchy in a Bowl
It’s David Chang, the internationally lauded, super-hip chef who turned water into wine after creating the universe in his immersion blender! Despite the hype, Chang really is excellent, and Momofuku Noodle Bar is where he and his pals make no attempt to faithfully recreate Japanese traditions. Their especially swiney broth is infused with bacon and is topped with Thai food (preserved bamboo shoots) and farm fare (sautéed corn). By those standards, Momofuku is anarchy; but after 10 years and hundredfold competition, it’s still one of the best in the city.