Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen

Friday, July 05, 2013

When we think about ramen, what usually comes to mind is a steaming bowl of noodles flavored with soy or tonkotsu, and loaded up with unctuous slices of pork. It wasn't until I encountered Yuji Ramen at Smorgasburg that I realized there was another kind of ramen: mazemen or "mixed noodles." A newer iteration of ramen, mazemen infuses noodles with complex flavors through the addition of sauces, oils, gelees, and other surprising ingredients.

We got to experience just how astonishingly inventive ramen can be when we sat for chef Yuji Haraguchi's five-course omakase at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen in Smorgasburg's Bowery Whole Foods outpost. Chef Yuji's approach is modern and thoughtful. His noodles are handmade, his seafood locally sourced, and his shoyu ramen broth flavored using bones and cast-offs from Whole Foods' butchers and fishmongers.

Our first course was a salmon and cheese mazemen, which sounded bizarre but made complete sense once I took a bite. The Camembert cheese was very subtle, giving the perfectly chewy ramen a creamy taste that's harmonious with the succulent house-cured salmon. Crispy salmon skin, taken from the same piece of fish, added a nice crunch; a sqeeze of lemon gave just the right splash of acidity; and julienned purple and green shiso leaves gave a hint of  freshnes. Together with the shredded nori on top, the dish calls to mind a deconstructed Philadelphia roll, elevated several degrees.

The second course blew my mind. Simply described on the menu as "squid", this course featured ramen shells flavored and colored with squid ink—ikazumi. I absolutely love squid ink pasta and paella, so this dish was right up my alley. The ramen is cooked in a tomato broth and topped with squid ragu and breadcrumbs mixed with nori. It was hearty, heartwarming and delicious. My dining companions weren't fans of the particular taste of squid ink, but I am still day-dreaming about it.

The dish that made everyone sit up and take notice was the third course. First of all, when you think of ramen, this isn't exactly the visual you'd expect, right?

Chef Yuji made these little pieces of ravioli out of soba flour and filled them with ankimo or monkfish liver, aptly known as the foie gras of the sea. It was decadent and delicious, and all that was needed was a bit of freshly grated wasabi, a tiny shiso leaf, and strips of radish.

The fourth course featuring clams was both a dish and an experience. Chef Yuji handed us bowls containing a pretty concoction of chilled ramen broth, ponzu, soy sauce, yuzu gelee, cucumber puree, poached clams, bits of bacon, and even a pretty edible flower. Next, he gave us bowls of steaming ramen, into which we were told to pour in our bowl of ingredients and mix, witnessing the changes in textures. My inner 5-year-old always enjoys playing with my food, and at any age, I do love a dish as hearty yet multilayered as this one.

Our final dish was a bit of a spectacle. Chef Yuji took a blowtorch to a tray of empty mussel shells, which he then placed in individual French coffee presses. The mussel shells were then dusted with bonito flakes, topped off with steaming broth, and allowed to steep, before we had the pleasure of crushing down the shells to impart a smoky flavor to the soup. This soup was then poured into our individual bowls of ramen topped with mussels, green onions and nori. As the day's broth was made with some beef bones, the resulting bowl of ramen had an incredibly comforting soup full of beef and smoky mussel flavor. Absolutely delicious.

If you haven't snagged a seat for chef Yuji's highly popular omakase yet, start stalking the Yuji Ramen Twitter account to find out when tickets go on sale next. Until then, you can try the a la carte options at the Yuji Ramen Test Kitchen, or stop by the Yuji Ramen stand at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg on Saturdays and Dumbo on Sundays. Happy slurping!

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  1. Yummm yummm ah hehhe thankks to speaking about camembert cheese... :) that made me smile but really happy to know you can find french cheese in US... the visual are quite good...I want to get...some...ah :D :D hihi ramen I thought I was noodle but not with mussel shell :p uhuh yamyam :) I enjoy any kind of food... :o what did you get as wine? We often get with shells white wine in France... ;)

    see u yeah...
    (why am I in France...when people cook such extraordinary dish abraod tell me why hihi !!)

    1. Unfortunately, this was a pop up and they didn't have a liquor license so no wine for us! When chef Yuji opens up his actual restaurant, I do look forward to having a crisp white wine with my clams! Glad you enjoyed this, and hopefully some really cool new things will come your way soon! Til then, you do have the benefit of really delicious French food - not a sacrifice, I am, sure!

  2. I'm in Paris, but right now I'm dreaming to be in NYC just for the squidly, rameny things :) You describe them so well, I am hungry for more :)

    1. Haha thanks Wellamaria and sorry if I made you hungry! I heard Paris is starting to have a ramen scene ... here's hoping you get your squidly rameny thing soon!