Setagaya Ramen "Blues"
It was less than a year ago when I professed, rather gushingly, of the excitement I felt that one of Japan's macho ramen virtuoso talents had opened up shop here in NYC.- http://www.chowhound.com/topics/412783 . I've never been a particular fan of shio (salt broth) ramen, but I was pleased with the cloying seafood complexity of Setagaya's broth, not to mention being smitten with the flat out delectable chashu pork slices. And their gooey half-boiled eggs were an added bonus. Tonight, I was reminded of just how fleeting the creation of quality ramen can be. The broth had lost the palatable softness it can get from long hours of simmering and I couldn't taste the level of "subtle complexity" that I recalled from last summer. While the menu promises three gauges of noodles, we were only served one. The onion portion was smaller but most disappointingly, the chashu has been replaced with bland chewy slices of pork meat. Subtleties of ramen broth are difficult to discern and differences can occur regularly and perhaps be written off as carelessness or simple failure. But with the chashu, it seems a conscious decision was made to serve this. Not a good decision at all. Maybe in between teaching the Korean cook Japanese and doing a sudoku puzzle, they could have mustered up a more authentic roll of pork.
I'd like to think that if Maeda-san, the originator of the ramen, were aware of how his shop had slipped he'd be here in a heartbeat. But he can't just hop a train from Setagaya to whip things into ship. That's too bad. It's our loss.
....In other ramen news, the latest issue of Chopsticks (March '08) a free English magazine/advertising rag available at Sunshine Mart, JAS Mart, and other Japanese businesses around town, there is a feature on ramen with coverage of 9 places around town serving the dish. Setagaya, Santouka are on there, as well as RaiRaiKen, Go Restaurant, Ippudo, Izakaya Ten, 212 Fukumatsu (212 52st. between 2/3 Ave.), Izakaya Riki, and Naruto. Interestingly, no Minca. As all the high quality ramen shops I've eaten at in Japan were dedicated ramen purveyors and not izakaya, I"m skeptical of how destination-worthy any of these non-ramen focused shops can be. So as we hold out now for Ippudo and Ichiran to negotiate the final stages of their arrivals, it seems we will continue on in tenuous ramen limbo.
Thanks for the report. I have noticed the broth problem last time I went to Setagaya as I could only taste salty broth with no depth. I thought it was just an off night. Your report confirmed that it had indeed gone downhill.
As for the chashu, it had actually turned bad quite awhile back. It was definitely not an one-off misstep, as my ramen had continuously been topped with bad chashu in my last few visits. The broth was still consistent then, but on my last visit it was noticeably worse.
When I am in Japan, I actually like Santouka and Ichiran more than Ippudo. Did you hear that Ichiran is opening in NYC?
Again, thanks for the report.
Ichiran is planning to open in Greenpoint on Manhattan Ave. But I've been regularly swinging by the location and haven't noticed any progress. It's always shuttered. Between the three- Ichiran, Santouka, and Ippudo, I prefer the soup at Ichiran, but Santouka has good chashu and used to serve excellent buta kakuni as well. (I don't think the Edgewater location does, though). I really enjoyed the chashu at Setagaya that first week it opened. It was tender, fatty, and lightly seasoned. But yesterday was just a horrible meal. My hope is that Ippudo's more corporate approach will insure a more consistent bowl.
Nice summary of what we've all been thinking recently. I'm guessing Minca wasn't in Chopsticks because they didn't advertise, but I could be wrong.
I believe ownership & management of the setagaya in question is Korean - not just the cook. Not that it makes one bit of difference in my book...call me naive on the ramen front but I've enjoyed rairai ken, momofuku and minca more than setagaya...
Thanks for your post. Had Setagaya 2 nights ago. Looked forward to it all day based on my memory of it when it had first opened, and what a disappointment! Just like all of the posters, found it salty w/out any other noticeable flavors. Char-siu was super dry. My friend & I left most of the stuff uneaten. The gyoza were OK.
I also noticed the omission of Minca from Chopsticks. I think it's regrettable.
I went for the first time today and was also disappointed. While I lived in Tokyo for a bit, I don't consider myself a ramen expert. Even so, it sadly just wasn't worth the price or the hype. I finished about half the bowl.