The Effing BroBros answer the Ramen Siren song far more often than I do; I haven't their cravings or patience for Ippudo.
(Tangent: HOW strange is that place, that you have to endure being crammed into a slaughterhouse pen of a bar for an hour +, to finally be set loose in a ginormous circus tent of a ramen house? My theory: The food is just okay, and it's just starvation-amplified gratitude for space that makes everything taste AMAZING!)
When the fancy does strike me, I prefer a nook or cranny that's a little steamy, laid-back, where the service is endearingly perfunctory. And when I find myself shoved in the Alphabet reaches of the East Village, primed with hunger and a couple of cocktails, Minca's foggy windows winnow to the top of my sodium-consciousness.
I did invite the Effing BroBros to accompany me, but their answers were the same: Ooooh, that sounds good! But I don't think my stomach can take it.
My reply to both: What? It's just RAMEN! Since when can you not handle ramen?
So 'twas with this brassy hubris that I perched on one of Minca's tall stools with Chocolate Bear, inches away from simmering stock and boiling baskets of stretchy-fresh ramen.
We shared an order of crisp-bottomed gyoza ($4.85):
Juicy, thin-skinned, loosely packed with veggies and pork (no lead-meatball dumplings here, thank you!) there is no more natural companion for Sapporo ($4.75)-- Greasy-savory/swallow, bitter-bubbly/swallow, repeat until depleted.
They held us over nicely until the main event--Chocolate Bear went for the Big Daddy pork broth item on the menu, the Toroniku Ramen ($14):
It may seem odd to some that there's raw vegetal matter sitting on top, but that cabbage = life raft in a sea of pork distillate. The soup is viscous, just short of a thin gravy that veils the katame (al dente), wavy noodles and hunks of sweet-tender braised pork. I'm fairly certain that if one were to set this bowl out on the cold sidewalk, it would turn into a bowl of piggy jello within minutes.
Being a sharper creature than myself, Chocolate Bear enjoyed his ramen, but didn't attempt to drain all of this mythical soup. I, like a gluttonous moron, lapped up every bit of mine:
She was a thing of salty beauty, the Spicy Basic Ramen ($11); let's break it down, shall we? Clockwise, starting at the pork at 6 o'clock, we've got:
- charsiu (shoyu-braised sliced pork)
- half a shoyu-braised egg
- shredded kombu (reconstituted cured kelp)
- nori (dried, pressed seaweed)
- menma (shoyu-braised bamboo shoots)
- chopped scallions
In a breath, it's land-animal-as-salt (embryonic and fully developed), sea-plants-as-salt (2 kinds), mountain-plant-as-salt. And scallions. Oh, and noodles, to soak up this devastating primordial RAINBOW of umami, winking red chili oil, and pork broth that was not quite so collagen-heavy as the Chocolate Bear's Toroniku, but still heavy enough where drinking the whole bowl is inadvisable.
...yet inevitable. I couldn't stop myself, even though I could feel my insides being embalmed with serious savor and spice, fermented soy and pork fat. Phuck pearl cream--the Japanese secret to dewy youth is that they're positively lined with salt on an atomic level.