Those who are familiar with my eating habits know that I have a major noodle addiction. Noodles, in fact, are the main ingredient in approximately 60 percent of my meals. And, when it comes to the slurpy, bouncy, delightful little buggers, Ramen ranks among my top four noodle variations (along with Thai Pad Se Ew, Chinese Dao Xiao Mian, and Korean Japchae).
It seems like New York City has a ramen spot on every corner, but the dish’s prevalence doesn’t temper my constant cravings, or my willingness to try new places in my search of the perfect bowl. This never-ending endeavor, fueled on this particular night by the astute restaurant selection of a very cute boy, brought me to Yuji Ramen.
Like many Ramen joints, the space was small and the seating limited. The restaurant was full when we arrived, but after about 15 minutes, we were seated at the bar, which was more spacious than expected. We ordered a couple of beers and some Tsukemono (pickled vegetables) to start.
The main dishes were divided into Ramen and Mazeman. For those who aren’t familiar, Mazeman is a delicious dry alternative, wherein the noodles are coated in sauce rather than floating in soup. The two of us had come for Ramen, though, so we ignored the second half of the menu. Dumbfounded, we realized that all of the dishes were seafood rather than meat based, something I’d never before encountered.
I got the Ika Ika: squid, kohlrabi, barley miso, and bacon sesame oil. Truthfully, I chose it purely for having bacon in it, and I’m glad I did. The distinctive, rich bacon flavor was evident at first scoop. I dug deeper, and filled my mouth with bouncy noodles, cooked to perfection–there are few things worse than an overcooked noodle, which disintegrates into disappointing nothingness. Though delicious, this didn’t taste like the salty, umami, noodle-soup that I’m accustomed to. I dug into my culinary memory arsenal and realized that it tasted like a fishy version of my mom’s creamy, corn chowder. An unexpected twist, but I wasn’t complaining.
My date opted for the Okonomi Shoyu: with mottainai broth, roasted fish, and turnip tops. Wondering what mottainai means? I was too, so I looked it up. Apparently, the word is not an ingredient, but instead a Japanese concept without an exact English translation. It’s an exclamation, used to lament the waste of something without actualizing it to its full potential, often used in the modern context of arbitrary environmental misuse. In terms of broth, I can only assume that this means the utilization of components that might otherwise be thrown away (not unusual for broths, which often incorporate bones or strange animal parts that are packed with flavor but may not be fit for consumption in their original form).
Word of caution: dating me means that if I like your food selection more than mine, I am entitled to half of it. But, if my food is better, I will hoard it. A classic, “What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is mine,” philosophy. Though the Okonomi Shoyu was savory and bright, suffice it to say that I stuck to my Ika Ika. I finished every last bite.
Don’t go to Yuji if you’re craving a huge, steaming, pork-bone broth with the usual fixings. But, if you’re feeling slightly adventurous and willing to try something a little off the beaten path, check it out at 150 Ainslee Street, in Williamsburg. You might be pleasantly surprised.