One of the longstanding ironies of the New York gastronomic world is while that a bowl of ramen rarely exceeds $15, a plate of pasta can easily command double that. In spite of the popularity of noodle soup and the skilled labor necessary to produce it, chefs who serve it have experienced difficulties charging what their American or European peers have for spaghetti or pappardelle.
I remember chatting with Momofuku Noodle Bar’s David Chang well over half a decade ago; he argued that he should’ve been pricing his ramen in the $20 range. And while the cost of dining at Noodle Bar has risen over the years, the ramen still tops out at $18. With one notable exception: Noodle Bar serves a black truffle ramen for $49. It’s tempting to dismiss it as stunt food, but a minute of reflection prompts the thought: How different is it from a classic truffled broth or truffled fettuccine?
What is different, however, is the setting in which it’s served: a stripped-down space with a busy open kitchen. And the result is that folks who prefer to dine at these lean counters (rather than more traditional sit-down restaurants) are now getting exposure to a luxury they might not have otherwise encountered. I think that’s pretty cool.
Also relevant: This ramen is, without question, one of the city’s best truffle dishes. It is pure sweet wet earth, which is what you want if you love truffles.
The broth, which is vegetarian, consists of chickpea hozon (Momofuku’s proprietary miso substitute), Lapsang Souchong tea, dried shiitake, and fresh truffle butter. The kitchen adds thick, alkaline noodles to the broth and finishes the dish with a hefty shaving of black truffles, imported from Europe through Regalis.
Generally speaking, the standard recommendation for eating ramen is to quickly slurp the noodles while they’re still firm and hot and then to drink up the broth. I’d advise against following those rules here; instead, consume both elements of the ramen more slowly. This is not just about appreciating luxury at a more leisurely pace — there’s a physiological factor at play too. Truffles are mostly scent, and your olfactory system numbs to them quickly. When you’re paying $49 the last thing you want is to not taste (or more precisely, smell) the chief product at hand!
So take a few sips of the broth. The truffle flavor here is soft and somewhat subdued. Then move over to the other side of the bowl where the shavings are floating. The earthy musk is more intense here. Now, suck up a few noodles with the wet, curly truffles clinging to the side. The flavor builds. And then it fades. When it does, stop eating, take a few sips of your beer, reset your palate, and then go back to your powerfully aromatic bowl.
I’d say I enjoyed this dish over the course of about twenty minutes or so. Typically, a bowl of black truffle pasta, $39 at I Sodi, $65 at Babbo, or $125 at Per Se (service-included), lasts just a few minutes. Noodle Bar’s black truffle ramen literally stays with you longer. It can also easily be split between two people.
The dish is seasonal, coming on the menu and continuing through until late March or early April, depending on how long the season lasts. It’s also available in Vegas for $50. And yes, I’m rating this as a BUY.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).