Straight out of Tampopo. At least that’s the feeling I had upon stepping through the noren at Rai Rai Ken and choosing a perch at the twelve-seat, dark wood counter. Not having traveled to Japan (yet…), I’ll have to stick with Japanese film as my frame of reference. It seems appropriate enough, given that Tampopo is one of my all-time favorite food flicks.
Situated in New York City’s East Village, Rai Rai Ken offers a modest and typical array of basic Japanese comfort food but it’s clear that their specialty is one thing: Ramen. Three types are on offer, with the core of the broth – Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (seafood) and Miso (fermented soybean) – providing the primary variation.
I opted for the Shio Ramen, the “house specialty seafood based noodle soup topped with bamboo shoot, boiled egg, roast pork, spinach, fish cake, dried seaweed and scallion.” I’ll get right to the point. It’s a one dish wonder. Sure, there’s room for improvement. The half of a hard boiled egg could stand to be replaced by a soft-centered poached egg. And though the fish cake is probably traditional (and certainly colorful), I’d happily pay an extra buck for it to be replaced by something actually recognizable as seafood. But those are minor nits to pick. The two most important elements of Ramen – the broth and the noodles themselves – are dead-on at Rai Rai Ken. The Shio broth is mild and subtle yet complete, working with all of the ingredients in the bowl without demanding to be noticed – and good enough to slurp all by itself. The noodles are perfectly firm and toothsome. A taste which happened to include both roast pork, which is done perfectly, and dried seaweed was the best single mouthful of the meal. If only there had been more..., which is not to say that portions are skimpy, only that I can be greedy when something is this tasty.
As an added bonus, we’re talking about cheap eats. The bowl of Shio Ramen as ordered will set you back less than a ten-spot (before tax and tip). I’ve heard tell of 30-60 minute waits at dinner time; however, stopping in for lunch early in the week, I was able to step right up to a choice of seats at the noodle bar. The next time in New York, I’ll do it again, though, to be fair, I suppose I’ll have to go around the corner and try Ramen Setagaya as well. Somehow, I think I’ll manage.
|Rai Rai Ken|
214 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003