Ramen by Mew
Let’s face it, the standard décor for ramen parlors has become entirely predictable and maybe even boring: blond woods, functional furniture, harsh lighting, and a businesslike atmosphere that encourages slurping and splitting. Well, that’s all about to change. Check out Ramen By Mew.
The first thing a friend and I spotted as we approached the storefront — located on picturesque Cornelia, an obscure side street in Greenwich Village — was a bright electric sign that flashed "On Air." Once inside, the radio-studio theme was extended with an entire wall of antique amplifiers, mixers, tape decks, and reverb units occupying slots in stacks, and makeshift furniture cobbled together from the tour cases that rock bands use to transport guitars and electronic equipment.
Ramen By Mew is a timely offshoot of Izakaya Mew in Koreatown, which has been distributing discount coupons (expiration date 1/31/16) that allow you any bowl of noodles on the menu for a mere $5 (usual price: $12). The menu is a shiny black book with lots of pages, with some variations from the usual ramen-parlor fare. Two kinds of fried chicken are offered, including one that comes doused with a tart soy dressing (yu-rinchi, $6). The usual seaweed salad is slightly sweet and above average.
Two broths are deployed in four bowls of ramen: tori (chicken), which the menu says has been cooked for 9 hours, and tonkotsu (pork bone), which undergoes a 14-hour boil. Both are lighter than at most ramen-yas, which comes as a relief. The tonkatsu sports some of the biggest slices of belly pork you’ve ever laid eyes on — though it's not especially tender — plus some stout, al dente noodles.
The yuzu ramen is subtly inflected with citrus-peel salt in a chicken broth, adding an almost tropical taste. The pork in the yuzu is presented in a dice. There’s lots of spinach and kelp, and the noodles are delicate. Both noodle varieties are manufactured by the legendary Sun Noodle of Teterboro, New Jersey, and the boxes are prominently displayed above the prep counter, where four cooks make small talk with the patrons sitting along the counter. 7 Cornelia St, (212) 727-1050.
Taking a totally different tack than Mew, Nakamura is a tiny, chef-driven spot that cultivates a somber demeanor and scientific approach to ramen. The location is unusual, just below the up ramp of the Williamsburg Bridge in one of the last rough-hewn corners of Lower East Side retail. In contrast to the much longer menu of Mew, Nakamura is offering only one starter (some marvelous, thin-skinned gyoza) plus four bowls of ramen.
The chef is Shigetoshi Nakamura, also known as Jack, something of a star ramen chef in Tokyo before he came here to open Ramen Lab, a game-changing space further west on Delancey that managed to recreate a real, super-cramped Tokyo ramen parlor in New York. You had to move hanging heavy coats out of the way last winter to even reach your seat at the minuscule counter. Thankfully, Nakamura is not quite so cramped, with seating at a counter and a handful of tables.
Currently, there’s only one kind of noodle offered, also from Sun, but the waiter assured our party of three that Nakamura would soon be making his own finer noodles in the basement, which location, on the Lower East Side, might elicit an involuntary shiver.
Each of the four bowls ($14 to $16) presents an interesting twist. The vegetarian choice, XO miso, offers a slew of bean sprouts and garlic chives in a light broth with a big wad of David Chang’s XO sauce. A bowl of curry noodles features a chicken and fish broth, and good quantity of ground meat. As at Mew, a Yuzu broth arrives smelling faintly of citrus.
Another interesting quirk of Nakamura’s – Sichuan peppercorns in both the XO miso and curry bowls, a welcome addition to the flavoring scheme. 172 Delancey St, (212)-614-1810.
[Update: A previous version of this article mentioned a tonkotsu broth at Nakamura. There is no tonkotsu currently served there.]