Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ramen Shack at Smorasburg, New York



It all makes sense now. When my good friend Keizo Shimamoto released the Ramen Burger to trendy-hungry New Yorkers, he wasn't just going for a short gain in the culinary world. He had the long game in sight. While many ramen chefs have never even been to Japan (I once met a guy who's recipe was based on an episode of Martha Stewart), Keizo has honed his ramen knowledge on both sides of the ocean.

And like many true ramen nerds, he is a huge fan of simple, Tokyo-style shoyu ramen.


And it doesn't get much more simple than this. Ramen Shack is a weekly ramen stand located at Smorgasburg Queens. It's a seven-seat affair, reminiscent of a real 屋台, food stand. You sit, slurp, and go.



The atmosphere is fun, without feeling rushed. Slowly savoring your ramen is still a problem in the States, where diners spend as long as 40 minutes with their bowl. Although there really aren't any rules when it comes to eating ramen, most ramen nerds will say that the noodles get soggy after 8 minutes.


The menu is literally only ramen and ramen toppings. Keizo has promised an ever-changing Special Tokusoba (which incidentally translates to special special noodles), but I was here for the Classic Chuukasoba.


And here it is, a $7 bowl of Tokyo-style chuukasoba.


I'm not exaggerating, I'm not pandering to my friend, I'm not trying to garner click-bait on the internet. I'm being honest when I say that this is on of the best bowls of ramen I've had in America. Sure, other bowls are more fun, with playful toppings and a very nouveaux feel, but the simple bowl at Ramen Shack is what makes ramen great.

Chef Shimamoto hand presses the noodles just before cooking, giving them the chewy, mochi-mochi-ness that good ramen needs. The toppings are all on point. But it's the soup that seals it. You have that impact from the shoyu, followed by the subtle umami flavors you only seem to find in your local ramen shop.


All I can say is that I'm sold. If you are a budding ramen enthusiast without the means to come to Japan, you need to check out Ramen Shack. If you have a failing ramen shop, you need to hire Keizo as a consultant. If you are looking to move to New York, you might want to consider living within a block of Smorgasburg Queens.

And now that you've read all that, and are ready to dive head first into a bowl, I may have some bad news. Ramen Shack is, at the time of writing, a temporary deal. The Queen's location, according to a Facebook post from nine hours ago, says that they will be here one more week before moving to Brooklyn. Whether or not that is a more permanent thing, you'll have to check for yourself.

The website is here.

Map of 43-29 Crescent St, Queens, NY 11101, USA

43-29 Crescent St, Queens, NY 11101, USA
Nearest station: Court Sq

Open Saturday 11am-6pm

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ramen Burger at Smorasburg, New York

The Original Ramen Burger


Sure, I've had the Ramen Burger here in Japan in recent months. And, sure, I even had it before all the madness, back in 2013 when Keizo Shimamoto made some for a little video short with Vice Japan. And, sure, I scoffed at it a little, especially when I heard that Keizo, a guy who's ramen passion is up there with some of the best tenchos in Japan, detoured from his dream of bringing real ramen to New York by throwing everything into the Ramen Burger.

The ramen boom was in full swing in New York, and the one guy who could help steer it away from the inevitable outcome, where newbie chefs dish out pumpkin-spice miso ramen to hoards of Instagramers, had bailed on us.


But I, like most of the haters out there, hadn't even tried the damn thing! I asked many of the tourists who joined me on my ramen tours what they thought of the trend, and most of them had strong opinions. Most of them, as well, had never even been to New York.


So I bide my time, until I could have it firsthand, at the weekly Smorgasburg food festival in Brooklyn, New York. This is where the Ramen Burger made an asteroid-size impact on the American food scene. People wanted a trendy, new, fun thing to eat. And they got it.


And now it's my turn!


It's hard to eloquently describe how awesome this thing is. No, it's not ramen. It's a burger, kicked up with an unusual topping.

Have you ever taken a burger, put corn chips and jalapenos on it, and been totally happy with your decision? The Ramen Burger is along those lines. The only difference is that corn chips and jalapenos are available on grocery store shelves everywhere. The Ramen Burger's noodle bun is not. It's a closely guarded secret, the process of forming noodles into a fryable bun. So you have this simple, junky thing that is only available at a couple places on the planet, and that's why I think the Ramen Burger is awesome.


Smorgasburg, in general, is pretty great. Everything is artisanal, gentrified versions of things you like.


Authentic in some sense of the word.


Transplanted and mutated.


A lot of it is just deep fried, which is a good thing.


I should note that the Ramen Burger is now available at a couple other Smorgasburg locations, at the shop, in Los Angeles in Koreatown, and randomly at food events around the world. Way to go Keizo!

I was with a few local friends, who wake up late every Saturday, stroll over to Smorgasburg, and get a Ramen Burger as part of their routine. The line is no longer epic (two to three hours in the past), and you shouldn't have much more than a 20 minute wait.

Wash it down with a local craft beer, or a cup of nerdy coffee, and enjoy the view of Manhattan.


Smorgasburg site here.
Ramen Burger site here.

Map of 90 Kent Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, USA

East River State Park—Kent Ave. and N. 7 St
Closest station: Bedford Avenue

Open Every Weekend • April-November
Saturday + Sunday, 11am-6pm

Thursday, October 1, 2015



I spent three weeks having a little vacation from the craziness that is Japan. And though I really only wanted to eat at three ramen shops, I ended up with a few more. Some were amazing, and some were pretty bad. But in the end, I think America is starting to push ramen in a good direction, with real umami flavors coming through.

Full reviews coming soon!








Monday, September 28, 2015

渡海家 (Tokaiya in Otaru, Hokkaido)



I had a few minutes after work in Otaru, so I found the closest ramen shop with a respectable rating. Tokaiya it is!


Otaru is a seaside town about an hour out of Sapporo. It looks like a quaint little place, with restored old-timey buildings and some killer sushi. A sleepy little fisherman's town?


Not this weekend. Hundreds of cosplay enthusiasts and anime car (called itasha in Japanese) owners were having a convention of sorts.


Back to the ramen. The miso, served with a healthy topping of sizzling garlic pork, was pretty good. It won't be winning any awards, but for random, middle-of-nowhere ramen it hit the spot.


And the gyoza was on point.


渡海 (tokai) means crossing the sea. Fitting, as seafaring Koreans, Chinese, or Russians may just show up at any moment, sailing their Evangelion themed sailboats and Miyazaki branded jet skis.


Map of 3 Chome-7-14 Inaho, Otaru-shi, Hokkaidō 047-0032

Hokkaido, Otaru-shi, Inaho 3-7-14
Closest station: Otaru

Open 11:00-23:00
Closed Tuesdays

Thursday, September 24, 2015

彩未 (Saimi in Sapporo, Hokkaido)

麺屋 彩未


I've been making it a mission to eat at the highest ranked ramen shops in the country. Saimi is by far the highest ranked miso ramen. Just outside the heart of Sapporo, this is one of those shops that always has a line, and always runs out of soup.


With shops like Yukikaze and Okami Soup having shown me that Sapporo miso is something worthwhile, I was ready to be blown away.


Like most Hokkaido shops, they have miso, shio, and shoyu on the menu. One bowl of miso please.


Right off the bat, these were the best yellow, curly noodles I've ever had. Springy and full of bite.


The soup was definitely good, but I can't agree with the rest of the country in giving this the coveted number one. The master's roots are at Sumire, and the Sumire/Junren style is my least favorite way of doing miso ramen. The impact is minimal, though I think that is the point. Instead of a salty miso hit, you get a smooth, subtle flavor.


If you are in Sapporo, put this on your short list and decide for yourself.

Map of 5 Chome-3-12 Misono 10 Jō, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaidō 062-0010

Hokkaido, Sapporo-shi, Toyohira-ku, Misono 10jo, 5-3-12
Closest station: Misono

Open 11:00-15:15, 17:00-19:30
Closed Mondays

Monday, September 21, 2015

山手ラーメン (Yamate Ramen in Shibuya)



Summer means rain in Tokyo, and I spent the entire rainy day binge watching the latest season of True Detective. What should have been an eight hour marathon turned into a sixteen hour crawl, mostly due to the fact that I kept falling asleep. So when the last episode finished, most ramen shops were closed.


Well, Yamate Ramen fit the bill. The location is a bit strange, on a busy street (Yamate Dori), just far enough away from Shibuya Station to make it officially out of the way. It is also near a branch of Todai University, so I guess that is why it stays open until 3am.


The menu is all over the place, with choices like katsuo shoyu ramen and tomato ramen looking quite tasty. But the other customers in the shop made it a point to convince me to go with the midori ramen; green ramen. The color comes from ユーグレナ, an enzyme-rich algae-like superfood. Healthy!


This one is a winner. The soup base is a creamy tonkotsu with a nice refreshing aftertaste. Heavy, but without the after-effects of eating most heavy soups. I had no problem hopping on my bicycle and riding the five kilometers home.


Good luck with the ticket machine! Put in your money, type in the number of what you want, and then hit the red button at the bottom.


Map of 2 Chome-21-7 Tomigaya, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 151-0063

Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Tomigaya 2-21-7
Closest station: Komabatodaimae

Open 11:00-3:00am
Sunday 11:00-1:00am