Monday, October 29, 2007

New York Ramen Part 2 - Menchanko-tei and Menkui-tei

After our somewhat disappointing visit to Minca a few weeks ago, we've been on a little bit of a quest for good New York ramen. Before we head back downtown to Setaga-ya and maybe one or two others, my wife wanted me to try two midtown ramen shops she likes, Menchanko-tei and Menkui-tei.

I'm happy to report that it is possible to get good ramen in New York, although I honestly still haven't found anywhere that equals Yo! Teko-ya in Odaiba. And the biggest problem is still the beer!

These restaurants are within a block of each other, on 55th between 5th and 6th and 56th between 5th and 6th. (That's a whole lotta 5's and 6's.) This is not a really heavy Japanese area, but it is probably the largest business district in Manhattan, so both shops no doubt get a lot of lunch traffic from both Japanese and American customers. We went both times on a weekend evening, so neither restaurant was all that full. (Menchanko-tei was when we first got there, but it turned out to be one party of about 20 people filling up most of the restaurant. Once they left, it was pretty quiet.) By that time, the office crowd has left for the weekend, and all that remains is mostly local neighborhood foot traffic.

Menkui-tei was up first. This is a pretty dingy-looking place - perfectly authentic, to me! - with a long counter near the kitchen and some pretty basic faux-wood tables along the walls. The decor is pretty low-rent and the facade outside is absolutely filthy, but that didn't bother me - it's pretty much what I expect from a ramen shop anyway. I ordered the spicy ramen, knowing I'd probably regret it, but I just can't resist when I see that on a menu. Here's what it looked like:

The spicy ramen doesn't come with all of the vegetables and other stuff that their regular ramen does. It's got basically pork and scallions, if I remember right. My wife ordered a shio ramen, which has a little more stuff, although it's hard to see it.

My broth was not to be messed around with. It was so spicy that I couldn't even drink it on its own. It tasted really good, though, and as long as I was eating something in the broth rather than the broth itself, it was the perfect amount of spice. The noodles themselves were slightly harder than I'd like and were obviously not fresh, but they weren't bad. The pork was better than Minca's and not as fatty, but it had been stewing in the broth a bit too long and was a little too chewy. I was a little disappointed that I wasn't completely full when we left (I probably should have ordered a ramen dish that came with a bit more "stuff").

Here are the noodles themselves:

I showed some photos from Menkui-tei in my post about my quest for real Japanese beer in New York. This beer problem has become a theme now - ramen almost has to be served with beer and gyoza does too, and I can't seem to find good, or sometimes even any beer at ramen shops in New York.

Tonight, we went to Menchanko-tei, and the first thing we were greeted by was a sign saying they had lost their liquor license. I don't even know how this can happen, but they had absolutely no alcohol of any kind. The sign advised customers to just go and buy it somewhere else and bring it in. The problem is they also have a sign saying they won't seat partial parties during peak hours, so we either had to both go - and delay eating (there was a line at that point, with people behind us) - or just live without it. We decided to live without it, although neither of us were very happy about it. It was Saturday night!

Anyway, Menchanko-tei is actually originally from Japan - Hakata, apparently. It's a small chain that's owned by a parent company that also runs a few other restaurants - including several more in New York, one of which you may have heard was shut down for health violations. No, this is not that Menchanko-tei.

The place looks pretty rustic, and not faux-rustic either. I had some misgivings about whether or not it was actually a ramen place - most of their dishes are not called "ramen", and they have about an equal number of dishes on the menu called ramen as they do called udon (two each, by my count). Still, my wife assured me that everything was ramen, unless it was specifically called udon. (This is apparently a little different than most ramen shops in Tokyo, which serve nothing but ramen or udon, rarely both.)

I ordered the Tori Kara Menchanko - probably kind of a mistake:

Looks pretty good, right? Well, it was pretty good. But I didn't really like any of the stuff I got in the soup - my fault, they have plenty of combinations available and I didn't need to pick this one. Their standard Menchanko ramen comes with scary-looking shrimp still in the shell, so I wanted something else - and the Tori Kara is a fried chicken ramen. Here's the miso ramen, which comes with everything their regular ramen has:

I didn't take a picture of the noodles, but they were very thick. I had my suspicions for a while that it was actually udon, until my wife looked it up and proved to me that what's ramen and what's udon has nothing to do with thickness and everything to do with the ingredients used to make it. But these were some thick ramen noodles. They weren't bad for what they were, they just weren't really my preference.

One thing I didn't like was that the meat and vegetables in the broth had obviously been stewing in there for quite some time. They were not fresh, and the meat was tough while the vegetables were almost gelatinized. I like ramen where the broth is made separately from the rest of the dish, and then it's all combined at the end. That way, the meat stays tender, the vegetables are nice and crisp, and all of the flavors come through.

I will say that the broth at Menchanko-tei was pretty amazing. I drank nearly all of it. No, I don't think it's because they stewed all those ingredients in it. The flavor of their shoyu broth comes mostly from soy sauce, mushrooms, scallops and seaweed - all ingredients not actually in the ramen that they serve. But the downtown ramen shops could probably take a lesson or two from this place in how to make a good broth.

Oh, and I gotta mention the gyoza - this place has some of the best gyoza I've ever had. They were crispy without being crunchy or tough, they held together well when eaten, and they had a really fresh pork taste.

Well, the quest for great New York City ramen continues, although both Menchanko-tei and Menkui-tei are perfectly edible. I have a suspicion that Menchanko-tei is actually the better ramen shop, although I need to go back and order something more to my liking to confirm that.

UPDATE: We went back to Menchanko-tei, and I had the actual "ramen" (everything on their menu is ramen, but they have a few bowls that are actually called ramen). I tried the Hakata Ramen, and I'm pleased to say it's the best ramen I've had so far in New York. It really came close to matching Yo! Teko-ya.

1 comment:

  1. "ramen almost has to be served with beer and gyoza does too"

    haha, and rice too.
    Take noodles in a mouth and gulp rice and then sip the soup.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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