Ramen Epiphany at East by Northeast 2/12/14
- opinionatedchef Feb 12, 2014 11:04 PM
I am feeling incredibly lucky tonight. Eating epiphanies are very rare things ime,and tonight , Philip Tang, chef/owner of East by Northeast( ExNE), put before us a bowl of ramen that we will never forget. While the future is unknown, it is, so far, the ONLY ramen that i will never forget.
We have had many "Wow' experiences at ExNE over the last few years, and tonight's dinner, which included ramen and four other other small plates, has firmly settled in my mind the belief that Philip is a genius chef; young and growing, but a genius right out of the gate. Firmly trained in (at least) classic French and Asian cuisine, he brilliantly blends that knowledge to produce food that is among the most imaginative in the city. For me, he and Tim Maslow of Ribelle, are the two Gemini twins of 'one of a kind' dishes in Boston right now.
The ramen components, all made in-house of course, include:
-Pork broth blended with a fish fumet --to lighten it from all the porky richness
-Pork sliced from pieces brined, sous vided, and smoked
-Alkaline linguini-sized noodles
-Sous vide(?) egg
-Ankimo (monkfish liver) butter . This small pool of orange on the side of the bowl-
reminds me of a beautiful sunset.
During and after eating the ramen, we completely stopped talking, and My Love said he had never seen me shake my head (in wonderment, w/ a major grin) for that long a time. I just couldn't get over it>> one of those "O.K. , I can die now" moments. The dish was so perfect, the flavors, portions, textures, all so equally balanced....It was simply perfect, and needed nothing to be added.
It's a relatively small bowl, compared to Sapporo and the others. While two tables of neighboring diners were sated with their own ramen and one to two other small plates, we have big appetites and each had our own ramen (probably our smartest move; you do NOT want to get into a sharing war with this dish; that would not be pretty!) plus four other small plates. They were all stellar: Chicken and Celery Root mousse in tiny pan-seared "canneloni "; Marinated Eggplant in small crispy scallion bread- like sandwiches, with an amazing szechuan peppercorn chili aioli, and a Beet and frisee salad with miso sesame dressing. The canneloni hypnotized me into repeating an order of them for dessert.
The ramen is only available Wednesday nights, and the regular menu is available all nights.
(And they do a very unique Sunday brunch.) Service is quick and seamless; the very knowledgeable Blaine continues to oversee a very friendly and welcoming room. Street parking is pretty easy.
Went back for more of that amazing ramen tonight.And happy to say that it was as wonderful as before. This time we actually had 3 bowls, splitting the second and glad that we did.We also had those unique salads that Philip excels at - Edamame and slivered kale and....., and Beet, frisee,....... We watched Tampopo last night (we'd seen it a few times when it came out, but not since then) and it was better than ever. We were actually much more able to appreciate all the ramen techniques. I guess millions of Japanese eat (the same) ramen dish every day, and I can only sigh and smile when I think of being able to have Philip's ramen every Wednesday!
It was great to see that, in spite of the truly crummy weather and snow piles, when we left tonight, every table was taken and quiet ramen slurping abounded.
Let the Ramen debate begin! I also had the Ramen last night and must say I was disappointed.
First of all the Ramen was the smallest bowl of Ramen I have ever seen. It was literally half or smaller of what other Ramen places serve. I get that it's "high end" Ramen, but even high end Burgers and Pizza are regular size or only slightly smaller. Imagine paying $18 for the famous burger at Craigie on Main, but Tony Maws makes it a slider size. That's what I felt like.
Philp's Ramen is not traditional Ramen as disclosed on his website and I'm fine with that. Each component was well made. I loved the smooth egg, I appreciate the homemade noodles, I could taste the smokiness of the pork, and I loved the Monkfish Liver Butter.
The problem, which is the most important aspect of Ramen, is the soup!!
His website describes the soup as "in the style of tonkotsu, made with plenty of pork bones and pork fat, cooked until it is deep, thick and rich... tempered with a lightly gingered fish fumet."
I didn't get this flavor at all. I did not taste the rich flavor of roasted pork bones boiling for 9 hours, or get any of the gelatin richness in my mouth. I did not taste any of the complexity of a good broth coming from veggies or secret ingredients. The soup was very light and not rich at all. In fact it had a slight sourness to it which I didn't find appealing. I think it was coming from the pickles in the soup.
Perhaps he's trying to make a more sophisticated lighter double stock Ramen soup, like Ivan Ramen in NYC, but to me Philip's soup doesn't work.
I hope he can tweak his soup, because the other components are good, especially the monkfish liver butter.
And he needs to work on the size..I mean high end ramen places in NYC and Japan have bigger bowls!
Thanks for the review! I'd be interested to know- did you think (for you) the price was too high for the portion, or just that ramen 'connotes' big bowl?
from both you and OC's posts, it seems like this is more his take on ramen, or even maybe 'a noodle soup with ramen noodles' than what we might think of as 'ramen'... so i'm less concerned with weather the bowl is big as in a more traditional place, and just whether or not the price aligns with the size/ingredients/taste.
Well dr., i have been trying to think of an analogy. but then again, it might be interpreted as snarky, and that i don't want. Anyway, i do indeed think Philip's broth is rich. What is rich? i think of rich as full-flavored. it doesn't have to be complex to be rich (i.e. hollandaise is rich but it is made of only 3 ingredients- egg yolks, lemon juice, and butter) but the complexity of any broth- elevates it imo. And Philip's broth is complex.
Traditionally, 'rich' also necessitates use of fat (in any of its forms.) The fat gives a rich flavor and a full silky mouth feel. Well, fat is definitely in this broth. The ramen order that i took home and ate the next day (to help me through this cold, not to dissect it a la Tampopo)- the congealed broth had a good layer of pork fat on top. Not to mention the unctuous ankimono butter - the foie gras of the sea. So yes, rich for sure.
Price and size? A bit of a conundrum. We were very happy this last time that we each had 1 1/2 orders instead of one. So it ended up being an $18 entrée (plus a salad) for each. I can handle that without complaint. But I will never compare it to Sapporo or nyc or japan because that gets me nowhere. NYC and Japan ramen are not where I live and Sapporo Ramen I cannot think of returning to now.
Just as an aside, but an important one....anyone who groks what philip is about- gets that all his food is presented in a small plate fashion. A great big bowl of slurpy ramen would be really incongruous surrounded by little plates at E x NE. Important to keep a consistent aesthetic. And for whatever reason, the smaller format moves me to focus more on what's in front of me, to pay attention to each ingredient and the special care that went into making it.
Is the soup rich? Philip in his website describes the broth, "in the style of tonkotsu, made with plenty of pork bones and pork fat, cooked until it is deep rich and thick... tempered with a lightly gingered fish fumet."
So I was expecting the soup to be Tonkotsu style rich or at least close to it since it's tempered with fish fumet.
What is Tonkotsu style? Tonkotsu broth is usually boiled for over 8 hours to convert the collagen into gelatin so the soup is deep, rich, and thick. His soup didn't taste like it was boiled for over 8 hours. If his soup was really rich from the gelatin conversion(not from fat) the whole soup would be solid when chilled, not just having a layer of fat on top of the soup.
I understand deep, rich and thick is relative, but for me it is the lightest broth of all the Ramen places I have tried in Boston and NY.
Regardless if the broth is supposed to be rich or light, at the end of the day, the broth just didn't do it for me. The sourness of the soup was a little off putting, but I must say there is potential as the other components were great.
I think people should try his Ramen and am curious what other CH's think!
I also tried the ramen and was disappointed in the broth for similar reasons. Full disclosure: I just got back from a Brooklyn trip that included ramen at Talde and Bar Chuko, so maybe I've blown out my taste buds, but I don't think so. My issues with the broth were similar. I didn't think it had much depth, and there was something slightly sour. I guess there are ways of testing the relative amounts of gelatin and fat, but I didn't get the sense that there was a whole lot of either. The last complaint is that it was served just over lukewarm, where I'm used to an almost mouth-scalding temperature. All very personal preferences, but this didn't do it for me. I've had plenty of other dishes I enjoyed at ExNE, so I'll be back, but not for ramen.
I like what hkaplan said in the Moody Deli thread, which i find perfectly fits the E x NE ramen as well:
< Prices are not cheap, but they're not needlessly exorbitant either given the TLC put into the ingredients. Grab a [bowl] sandwich (any will do) and I doubt you'll be focused on the extra few $. >
We had Philip's ramen for the 8th or 10th time tonight and were as blissed out as ever. We also had another dish --that
completely blew me away. Daikon cake. WOW! What a surprise. I have had daikon cake at Winsor DimSum before, but it was so dull, we hardly touched it. But this one, THIS one, was beautifully creamy inside and luscious with the garlic aioli and soy glaze. I had no idea daikon cake could be so wonderful. I asked and Philip said he only uses a tiny bit of rice flour to bind it, so maybe that's the secret.
Also, for those seeking a real bargain, (on Wed night only) the 3 and 5 course tasting menus now allow you to have the ramen as one of the courses. Three neighboring tables opted for that version tonight and the plates all looked amazing, so i think we're going to follow that lead next time. :-}