Ramen Lab

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The snow started to come down early that Friday. I had plans to meet up with some friends, and decided it was the perfect opening for me to try Ramen Lab in the NOLITA section of Manhattan. Later we’d all be under the influence, so what better dish than Ramen to fortify the stomach. An acquaintance of mine, when I lived in Korea, always used to bemoan the lack of Ramen joints there. Having lived in Japan for many years, he would always say that at the end of a long night of drinking, it was Ramen that would sort you out. That made sense, In New York and much of the North East its pizza, but tonight it would be Ramen, albeit in reverse.

Ramen Lab is a peculiar place, not so much restaurant as it is an advertisement for the owners. Sun Noodle Corp. of New Jersery owns this spot, and it wasn’t until after I heard about the restaurants concept, that I learned noodle peddlers were the proprietors. You’ll have to get over it ( like companies adorning your favorite soccer teams jersey) I did, was easy.

The 12 seat space, stools huddled around the kitchen, invites a new chef to prepare a new ramen each month. A truly great concept in my opinion. While NYC has its fair share of Ramen joints, why not have more, 12 more a year to be precise. Expect long waits when you come hear, as space and time are factors. I got there right when it opened more or less, and still had to wait about 35 minutes. Put your name in and order prior to being seated. Typically on the menu is one vegetarian option, and one carnivorous choice. I went with that nights American Wagyu Miso ramen. The dish that night was brought to the table by Akira Hiratsuka and his team at Brooklyn Ramen.

The broth was decadent, a visible pot piled with clean white bones proof that it took some time to cultivate the rich flavor. Also present was the clear taste of ginger. The beef was tender as were the noodles, and they really anchored the dish. Scallion and corn brought color to the bowl, and the soft boiled egg a classic ramen touch. The menu offers a lot of a la carte options, each costing a dollar or two. This is typical in many of the ramen restaurants in New York these days, and not something I’m particularly fond of. It’s my opinion that an egg should come standard with your soup. They also charged extra if you wanted your broth spicy, so hot oil was additional, which I feel should definitely be a free option. Beyond this digression, flavor is front and center, and paired with an Orion Ramen Lab is a great start, or end, to any frigid New York Night.

Hi-Collar

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A friend of mine suggested I visit this sake bar after its recent opening. I decided last night would be a good time to try it, so me and another friend went to check it out. Originally my intent was to sample a few of the sakes on offer, but was pleasantly surprised by the beer selection and decided I would try one of these first.

Hi collar is a classy place, but easy on the wallet, I found pricing to be reasonable. We tried the Yonayona Ale and an IPA, both really tasty. One of the things I particulary liked is that beer is served in chilled brass cups which serves the duel purpose of keeping your beer chilled and making you look cool. I would imagine its a similar feeling drinking out of a goblet of some sort, but I can’t remember having ever done that.

After the beer we sampled an unfiltered sake which was surprisingly smooth. When you order a glass, your sake comes in a small carafe, and they give you two shot glasses. Of course this is typical and great for sharing. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful when it comes to selection. Though I didn’t sample the food, it looks really good, authentic Japanese dishes. The bar tender also told me that the space doubles as a coffee shop during the day which I thought was a clever idea and use of the space. Definitely worth checking out for a drink in a laid back quite atmosphere. Also a great place for a date.

Photo by Third Wave Wichteln via Instagram

Sake Bar Hagi

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Off the busy streets near Times Square, down a narrow flight of stairs you’ll find Sake Bar Hagi. I’ve been going to this Izakaya for years now. Back when Ben first took me here, you could buy a bottle of Sake, have them write your name on it with a sharpie, and come back later to sip from that bottle once again. Really a great business model, but one that has been discontinued, for reasons legal I can almost be sure of.

This review isn’t to lament about the good old days, Sake Bar Hagi is still great, and the food still flatters. An Izakaya is a place for patrons to relax, have a few spirits, and unwind from work. All the while taking in small plates of food. It’s kind of like a pub, or maybe a tapas place, but of course its distinctly Japanese.

Sake(as the name implies) still very much flows, even if you can’t tag up a bottle for future consumption,the selection is good. Not in the mood for Sake, these types of establishments always have beer as well. Hagi has the typical, Sapporo, Kirin and some legacy foreign and domestic options. But of course we come here for the food, and there are a wide range of options. Yakatori is on offer, so chicken/beef/vegetable skewers. Similar to the skewers is the short rib, think LA galbi, think definitely worth it.

Sushi and shashimi abound, as well as other fish preparations. I got the mackerel last time, it was grilled, cooked perfect. You can also get dishes such as uni if your looking for something not typically on offer. I got the uni, okonomiyaki and I was all set.

Manhattan Japanese Bar

 

Sake Bar Decibel

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I hadn’t been to this bar in years until a friend took me here the other day. This place is really awesome, the perfect spot for some sake after dark. Blink and you’ll miss it, as there is no sign, and its in the basement of a building on 9th street. Once inside you’ll really feel like your in a true NY bar. Graffiti covers the wall from floor to ceiling, don’t be shy if you want to break out your Molotow 420PP Mini Paint Marker and represent. Definitely more names on the wall then four years prior.

Beyond the graf, you have traditional Japanese decor. It makes for a nice East meats West, Tokyo|NY Mash up. I’ve never had the food, but have sampled the many sake and shochus on offer. The beverage list is extensive. When I went the other day we had an unfiltered sake, which I haven’t had before. I liked it, unfiltered means that they don’t filter out the rice, so you get bits of rice in your glass. good for a date or just kicking back with old friends.

Photo by Kuang Chen via Flickr

Manhattan Japanese Bar

Shuya Cafe

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It’s been a long week when I meet my friend to set out for Friday dinner. It’s been a long week, five days forty hours long week, in an unsatisfying, thankless, soul draining hourly wage length. But here we are on the edge of the weekend, and the feelings held hours earlier are starting to dissipate.

The plan is to get ramen, first choice on our list is Mu Ramen, a top notch destination with communal seating and not enough chairs. Against my protestations, the Infinity coupe moves closer and closer, and then we’re at the front door. One hour wait, nah, not tonight… not the contraception, but plan b none the less…

Plan b is a new ramen place that just opened up on Broadway just a few blocks above Steinway. This is where we found ourselves through the front door into the warm atmosphere at Shuya Cafe. Surprisingly, and to a bit of a chagrin, another ramen place that embraces communal seating. We are seated next to a couple, and truthfully it does seem a bit to close. Close enough where we have to decide if we should introduce ourselves. We half say hello, shit I’m hungry, at this point its close to nine. Glancing over the menu at the ramen my friend tenses up as he learns that all the items have fish stock in them. He’s allergic to change, and trying new things. He’s about to leave, I tell him that I’ll be staying and that he should take a look at the end of the list. Mazemen, a noodle dish, made with same noodles, without soup stock.

We both decide on the Mazemen, as well as the pork bun app. The dishes come out in no time, the food is deeply satisfying, the weeks woes completely dissolve.