Our latest installment of Quick Bites has us in Midtown for Morimoto's ramen.
Iron Chef Masahuru Morimoto is a famous man. And while there's never really been much of an opportunity or incentive to eat his food here in New York City—his lukewarmly received flagship in Chelsea feels closer to club than restaurant, and his TriBeca project Bisturo shut down after three months—clearly the power of celebrity is enough to maintain an avid following.
Witness: at Morimoto's brand-new noodle shop Momosan Ramen, people stood outside in the rain, at 4:15 in the afternoon, on a Saturday, to eat dinner in Midtown. And table waits on Friday night hit an hour or more by 6:00.
Not that lining up for ramen is unheard of around these parts, but still, it was an impressive opening weekend for the TV star. Equally impressive was the way the friendly army of bartenders and servers, bussers and hostesses, managers and other fixers handled the crowds. At least during the early part of the night; I arrived at 5:15 and was gone by 7:00. Apparently things got a little discombobulated as time went on.
Morimoto himself was on hand both nights, running the pass and posing for selfies as he waded through the packed room. Momosan is a fine-looking restaurant, by the way, with a bar, window counter, waiting area up front, and dining area in back, its got a utilitarian layout. This is all given some personality by the back-lit sake bottles, the odd dioramas, and the two-tiered ceiling. The music during both my meals was bouncy Japanese pop.
What remains to be seen is what kind of place Momosan will be. They're pushing the fancy sake service hard, so although the food prices are (mostly) reasonable, there is a danger of it becoming more about the nightlife than a spot to grab a meal.
The Momosan menu is anchored by four different ramens, three of which I thought were very good. The Tonkotsu has all of the depth and richness you want from that porky broth, and the coconut curry Tantan is almost sludgy it's so thick and intense, though not nearly as fiery as other "spicy" menu options in ramen-yas around town.
The Tsukemen is basically the Tonkotsu in a different format: you get two bowls, and you dip the room-temperature noodles, meat, egg, menma, etc., that come in one into the hot broth (with bonus pig pieces!) that awaits in the other. In all cases the pork chashu is sliced thin, lightly charred, wonderfully fatty. And without exception the noodles, custom made by Sun, were cooked to that perfect chewiness.
The fourth ramen, the Tokyo Chicken, was the least interesting by far, though I will say that the meat was impressively tender.
Ramen may be the feature presentation here, but the appetizers get far more play on the menu, with nearly two dozen from which to choose. I tried six, and from that sampling it seems like the more unusual the dish, the better it will be.
The Crispy Mimiga was the big winner, a pile of fried pig ears that were surprisingly easy to bite through, and tasted like an pleasantly gamey bacon. The chunks of soy marinated raw tuna in the Zuke Don, served simply over rice with some scallions and nori, packed a ton of bright, clean flavor into a small bowl.
Toppogi, or Korean rice cakes, makes an appearance, and they are nearly great, probably a bit too sweet, but definitely fun to eat: you pick up each soft, chewy pellet and wrap it within one of the small squares of nori stacked on the side.
The Sticky Ribs went too far into the sweet side of things for my taste, though hardcore hoisin fans might disagree, as did the Peking Duck Roll, which, at five bucks a pop for what is essentially a tiny taco, had the distinction of also being the only thing we ordered that felt like a rip-off. The Gyoza was solid, though I don't really remember anything specific about it.
You can eat a creative, delicious meal at Momosan Ramen for a surprisingly fair price, and if the place doesn't stay overrun by TV fans and/or after-work suits taking up residence at the tables with their $210 bottles of sake, it could be a welcome neighborhood go-to. I definitely want to eat here again, though there's no chance I'd wait an hour to do so.
Momosan Ramen is located at 342 Lexington Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets, and is open for lunch (11:30 to 3:30) and dinner (5:00 to 11:00) Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday for dinner from 4:00 to 10:30. (646-201-5529; momosanramen.com)