141 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003
141 First Avenue
New York, NY 10003
When most people like me think ramen soup, they tend to reminisce, remembering their broke college days, eating dinner from a styrofoam cup that was bought at the 7-Eleven in the aisle next to the 36 packs of Busch. Beer, Camel Lights and a heavy dose of gas station MSG may have gotten me through many a final exam, but since then, my palate has become somewhat more refined. Subtly so, of course. I'm no snob. So when I walked past an entire restaurant that existed seemingly solely to remind me of college, I knew that I'd eventually have to walk through those doors.
But nostalgia and the Nissin Corporation joined forces to warp my understanding of what a real ramen soup should be.
Ramen Setagaya serves pretty much one type of soup, either with the noodles soaking within, or placed in a bowl alongside. Since you get about a gallon of the stuff, I suggest not eating for about two days before you show up. Bro an I ordered the same dish (obviously), and in spite of what we thought was about a combined thirty years of experience with ramen soups, we were in no way expecting what wound up in front of us.
Clearly, Ramen Setagaya is doing a good job. I have never walked by to find it less than packed. And almost everyone eating there is Japanese, a good sign that you're in for the real thing. The seating here is all at the bar or at communal tables. Very traditional. The service was pleasant and attentive and we instantly got two ice cold Kirins to ward off the heat and humidity we had just escaped outside.
First, Bro and I decided to get an order of Gyoza, vegetable, meat, and seafood dumplings. They were excellent and gave me high hopes for the meal to come. That said, I guess my Euro-American tongue is to blame for the sad truth that I just didn't really care for the soup.
For starters, the dish is verrry salty. Very salty and very fishy. Thank goodness for the beers. Everything was cooked perfectly, I could tell. But it simply wasn't to my taste. The soup, Pork BBQ Imperial Soy Sauce Ramen, came complete with pork, vegetables, mushrooms, fish skin, and half of a mostly cooked egg. I suggest using the condiments on the table to adjust for your personal taste. But again, it was very fishy. You really have to enjoy the kind of fish-oil aftertaste one gets from a sardine-topped pizza to enjoy the ramen here. You have to be far more salt-tolerant than I am as well. The pork was fine, and I wasn't even complaining with the egg, though I was somewhat weirded out by the fact that it floated in some middle ground between hard-boiled and raw. And of course, I enjoyed the noodles. I appreciated the fact that I knew that the chefs did nothing wrong. But appreciation aside, even though I got through about half of what appeared to be a never-ending bowl, I really never enjoyed what I was eating. Bro even less so. Try as he might, it just wasn't happening. But we ate as much as we could and can hardly say we didn't leave full.
I still have to recommend Ramen Setagaya. Just because I don't know what I'm doing doesn't mean you won't, and for a change of pace away from the typical popular sushi place without having to open your wallet very wide, this might just be the place for you. Give it a shot. You'll either love it or hate it, but you'll be stuffed either way.
The gyoza was amazing.
The two soups, two beers, and an appetizer, plus tax and tip was about $40.