Totto Ramen and Hide-Chan Ramen
Two ramen joints expand our noodle options.
Mon Aug 2 2010
Miso ramen at Totto Ramen
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5
366 W 52nd St between Eighth and Ninth Aves (212-582-0052). Subway: C, E, 1 to 50th St. Mon--Fri noon--midnight; Sat, Sun 5--11pm. Average ramen: $10.
248 E 52nd St between Second and Third Aves, second floor (212-813-1800). Subway: E, M to Lexington Ave--53rd St; 6 to 51st St. Mon--Fri noon--2:30pm, 5:30pm--2am; Sat 5:30pm--2am. Average ramen: $10.
Ramen, as the story goes, first came to the United States in a Styrofoam cup; rehydrated, it flourished as that stereotypical college-student meal. Now, with the increasing presence of authentic ramen restaurants in the city—spurred, in particular, by the success of downtown noodle-soup joints Ippudo and Ramen Setagaya—we New Yorkers are developing our own obsession with what is perhaps Japan’s greatest comfort food (a year-round staple, regardless of the heat). Still, our love for it hardly compares with Japanese ra-mania, and how could it? Our meager options just barely hint at the countless versions of the soup—spanning regional, local and individual styles—that one finds at the hundreds of specialist ramen-ya throughout the island nation.
Fortunately for stateside slurpers, the arrival of two new midtown restaurants, Totto Ramen and Hide-Chan Ramen, adds to the variety of excellent steaming bowls available in New York. Both spots are owned by Bobby Munekata, whose stable of critically acclaimed Japanese restaurants includes Soba and Yakitori Totto. Munekata wisely tapped Hideto Kawahara, a ramen chef based in the Hakata region of Fukuoka, Japan, to oversee both projects.
Of the two, Totto Ramen’s narrow, below-street-level space on the western end of 52nd Street adheres most closely to a traditional ramen-ya: It’s designed for quick meals, with most seats along a counter, behind which the chefs crisp pork slices with a propane torch while tending to bubbling stockpots. The specialty here is paitan ramen, a creamy soup that’s a chicken-based variation on Hakata’s famous tonkotsu (pork) broth. The most basic version, the Totto chicken, is a flavorful, opaque soup bobbing with thin, straight noodles and slow-cooked pork ridged with satiny fat. The real winner, however, is the miso ramen, enriched with a scoop of nutty fermented soybean paste. Its wavy egg noodles are perfectly springy, and a spoonful of intensely peppery homemade chili oil turns the bowl into a fragrant, fiery masterpiece.
Ramen is generally a feast unto itself, but Totto offers a few hit-and-miss sides to bulk up a meal. Too much yuzu-accented mayonnaise overwhelms an order of slivered bamboo shoots, but it adds a citrusy note to the char siu mayo don—a mound of rice heaped with more unctuous pork and raw sliced scallions.
Residing at the other end of 52nd Street, in a larger space (previously home to Munekata’s Yakitori Torys), is Hide-Chan. Here, Kawahara focuses on pork tonkotsu broth—a luscious meaty soup, more cloudy than creamy. The best way to taste it is in the ma-yu ramen, with its added dimension of earthy, crunchy kikurage mushrooms, a half-submerged sheet of briny nori, the raw-vegetable brightness of scallions and bean sprouts, plus bits of carbonized garlic that lend a deep, charred flavor to the bowl. There’s also a less sweat-inducing option for heat-weary diners—chewy chilled noodles, served with a side of spicy, sesame-oil flavored soba broth for dipping—and worthy add-ons like mini pork gyoza, bound in translucent wrappers and crisped on one side.
Desserts were absent at Totto Ramen, and such an afterthought at Hide-Chan that the servers consistently dropped the check before asking if we were interested in the lone option—almond-tofu pudding. But if, like us, you’re committed enough to visit a ramen joint in August, you know that a mediocre dessert is beside the point. While New York still has a ways to go before approaching the variety and mastery of Japan’s soup-slurping culture, we’ve certainly broken out of the dorm room. For now, that’s triumph enough.
Drink this: An ice-cold Sapporo on tap will help break the sweat.
Eat this: Miso chicken ramen, pork rice at Totto Ramen. Black-garlic ramen, miso ramen, mini gyoza at Hide-Chan.
Sit here: Ramen is a meal meant to be eaten quickly, not lingered over: Keep it real at the counter.
Conversation piece: The yellow color of ramen noodles often comes not from eggs, but from kansui, a mix of minerals such as sodium and potassium carbonate.
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