When I say I get food-obsessed, it’s not an understatement. It’s not like having one night a week dedicated to pizza, either. I’m compulsive. I’m a bloodhound. I get the scent of one type of food and then go crazy. It happens all the time (soup dumplings, fish tacos, biscuits, etc) – I eat a particularly delicious something-or-other and I’m basically lost without it for a good week or two. And living in New York city where if you can think of a cuisine type, you can find it (and pay for it)… well, it’s like an alcoholic living on a boat in the middle of a bourbon ocean.
So yes, I had ramen again. While you’re judging, I might as well fess up to having it two days in a row. Tam emailed me a blog review for Tsushima in midtown. This sushi joint only serves ramen at lunch on Wednesdays and Fridays, and in limited quantities. The review Tam sent me basically said that if you didn’t get there by noon and order on your way to your seat, you could kiss your ramepportunity goodbye. Tsushima, you had me at hello. I’m the idiot who falls for trying every gimmick AND I happen to love ramen AND I happen to be in the midst of a ramen kick. So Tam and I made plans to meet outside Tsushima at 11:50AM on Wednesday. After finalizing our plans, I couldn’t focus… I needed instant ramen satisfaction to quell the growling in my stomach, onset by the expectation of a future ramen meal. You know where my first stop was: Ippudo. As usual, the wait for a party of 3 was about 1.5 years, possibly 2 (one of those being a leap year, so tack on a day). Couldn’t do it – I needed me some ramen. We decided to march on over to 1st Ave and have a little Ramen Setagaya.
A few gyoza later (plus a lost-in-translation ordering fiasco when my friend’s husband wanted ramen with no scallops, then just noodles, then just broth with fat noodles, then just nothing seafood because he’s allergic… which he then told us he actually isn’t), my shio ramen arrived, complete with HALF (not a whole, but HALF) of a custard-yolk egg. Ummm… ok. Half an egg. So not a whole egg, just half of an egg. Just half. 1/2. Not 1. 1/2 in mine, 1/2 in your bowl. Oh, you didn’t order ramen? Just me? Then I’ll just go ahead and toss this other half away. Half. It was delicious, though, but it wasn’t cold-marinated in soy overnight. Probably because you can’t marinate an egg after you cut it in half… Overall, I enjoyed my ramen there and would have it again if (and when) I next try and go to Ippudo just to find out that I need to wait until the Armageddon to get a table. And it did the trick in quelling my ravenous ramen craving for a few hours while I slept.
The next day, I was late. Unfortunately, I was the only Vietnamese running on peninsula-time that day and Tam had to wait a few minutes for me as I sprinted towards 47th & Lexington. Luckily, Tam is awesome and busied herself taking pictures while waiting for me. WHICH, brings me to a really cool realization: I LOVE eating with other bloggers!!! They don’t care if you take a thousand pictures of your meal, ask to take pictures of their meal, and re-adjust your plate like a thousand times to get the right shot. They don’t care, because they’re too busy doing the same thing. AWESOME. Anyhoo, we hurried into Tsushima to fight for a table, prepared to order the ramen on our way to our seats.
Please insert your own soundtrack of crickets chirping here. We were literally only the second (and third) people to arrive. Oh, ok… how old was that blog review that we read? Tam asked to sit at the bar (which I also love to do! I think I’ve found another dining soulmate) and we were escorted past a long row of empty seats to the very beginning of the bar and asked if these two stools were ok. Sure. Ok. I mean if that’s all you have…
I had yet another lost-in-translation-ramen-ordering experience. The menu said “ramen lunch” and then underneath it, “ramen,” and then underneath that, “barbecued pork.” I asked how I got ramen WITH pork – do I have to order pork separately? A longer-than-necessary back-and-forth ensued, after which I inferred that there was pork in the ramen, just not a lot. Ok, whatever, I will take my chances with the standard. There was a nice, ordinary but delicious, mesclun salad with ginger dressing while we waited. I hadn’t even finished my salad (probably because I was too busy snapping photos that I realized later were rather boring) when my ramen arrived. It was a shio broth ramen like Setagaya… I immediately dipped my spoon into the side of the bowl to take a sip, careful to not disturb the contents, which I had yet to take a picture of.
This shio (salt) ramen was in a category by itself. Listen, I love me my hakata/tonkotsu pork-broth ramen and do prefer it to all other ramens in a Sophie’s Choice situation, but this shio ramen was Dy-No-Mite! Beyond the perfect savory balance that shio usually offers, this broth was smokey and a little sweet. There was depth to this broth that tasted like roasted crustacean shells. Just writing about it makes my mouth water – but that’s a new daily side-affect from the whole blogging thing. The broth also benefitted from stealing a little of the earthy, nutty, piggy notes from barbecued pork belly. Damn. I love moments like that first taste… these are the moments that always convince me it’s better to carry a little meat on your bones than to refrain from these sense-memories-in-the-making food moments. Don’t even think of commenting about how exercising helps offset blah blah BLAH BLAH. I don’t want to hear it – shhhhh… don’t disturb my ramen memory.
We dug into our bowls and Tam was the first to find it… a delicious scallop surrounded by its egg sack. Mine was colorless and ugly (a lot like me after a long and dark winter), but Tam’s was a captivating coral color. Story of my life, people. Luckily, Tam let me take a picture of hers to show all of you. I may get dealt a pretty bad hand with most things, but I tell you what – I really luck out when it comes to dining partners and friends.
Once I put down the camera, I started digging in. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of overcooked seafood and there’s just no way to leave a scallop submerged in hot broth without it getting a little dense and mealy. That texture kills me, but it actually blended in nicely with the grainy texture of the egg sack surrounding the scallop proper. It all became pleasantly grainy the way pears are. Luckily, where texture leaves something to be desired, flavor does not. Even better was when, after nibbling the first part of the scallop to test, I then submerged and pulled it back with a spoonful of broth. Ahhh, so this is the way shio broth was meant to be savored.
Again, pork belly gets tough when cut thick and submerged in boiled ramen broth, making thin slices ideal in texture, but not in aesthetics. I appreciated the beauty of the thick cuts, but I have to say that I prefer a thinner slice. Still, the flavor on this pork was entirely satiating: savory, wood-smoked, porky-sweet.
By now, the restaurant had started to fill and Tam and I began to quietly congratulate ourselves on getting there early. I’m not sure if anyone else ordered the ramen – I saw a lot of sushi plates – but I felt extremely proud of ourselves for getting there early enough to guarantee sampling the umami deliciousness. The noodles were a little softer and too close to Top Ramen noodles than I would like, but they did absorb the flavor of the broth nicely. Oh, and the ramen came with what looks like mix-it-yourself-crab-congee that was nothing to write home about… so I won’t. In the end, this shio ramen proved that it holds its own and cannot be measured against a different type of ramen. I definitely enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind having it again… although it did leave me wishing that I had an “in” to get me past the hours of waiting at Ippudo – you know, some sort of “golden ticket” that will take me behind the scenes of its noodle and tonkotsu fabrication empire. In fact, I’m adding that to my list of things to do with this blog: make an Ippudo-inspired parody of Willy Wonka complete with Japanese, noodle-slinging Ooompa Loompas.