enter on Charles St., speakeasy style underground
By Hannah Reimann
When I was 18, I was an art student living in Kyoto, Japan and had the pleasure of living and learning how to eat out and cook on my own for the first time. I lived in the inaka (“countryside”) where my weaving school was located for seven months and shopped at the outdoor markets for fresh fiddleheads, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, pale, tender new ginger roots in the spring, shiso leaves, freshly made udon, burdock root, slim, tender carrots and varieties of fragrant greens. I got to know the Japanese way of selecting seasonal ingredients, deciding what to eat based on what was available. I was enchanted that everything changed from month to month, the colors deepening as the weather grew warmer, and the different kinds of mochi, fresh and soft, were revealed. I learned how to cook kabocha and small, purple Japanese eggplant. I was entranced by the beauty and freshness of ingredients and the painstaking, artistic presentation of food.
I was the Japanese correspondent for a Northern California punk fanzine called Maximum Rock’n’Roll back then and I visited Osaka with more and more frequency over the year I lived in the Kansai region to photograph and review bands at small nightclubs. Before I got on the train to return home to Kyoto, I would sit outside on a stool at a tiny Ramen stand, slurping and chewing with the other customers. If it was cold outside, the steam from the bowls would be opaque and white. Sometimes the shops were trucks pulled up on the side of the road near the train station with makeshift curtains and a window through which one was handed a full, delicious bowl and where businessmen made a quick stop before going home. Sometimes they were narrow shops with a bar, stools and small tabes in the back. Once, a prostitute befriended me at one of the back tables, identifying with my other-ness, braided Mohawk hairdo, leather jacket, combat boots and late night prowl. We had an interesting chat in broken English and Japanese.
When I was contacted a few weeks ago about Ramen Misoya opening just a few blocks away from where I live now, my mouth watered. In addition to stirring up my memories of Japan, I got excited to taste an exceptional spin on a well-known dish. There’s nothing like a hot bowl of Ramen at the end of a work day or to have fun with friends on a weekend night while also sharing appetizers and drinks.. Ramen has become more and more popular in New York over the past 20 years and there have been many shops in the East Village, West Village and Brooklyn, usually inexpensive narrow places with a bar like the ones in Japan, where most people are seated and where you can see chefs filling bowls with soup, noodles, various vegetables, meats, a soft-boiled egg with a creamy egg yolk and condiments.
Ramen Misoya is a bit different from the others. It has a large, speakeasy-style setting in the basement of a residential building on Charles Street, spacious with more tables than bar seats. There are generously sized booths for larger parties. As its name implies, all the soups contain miso, the salty, fermented soybean paste everyone knows from eating sushi when ordering miso soup instead of a salad. Ramen often has soy sauce-based broth, which is almost clear and lends to tasting the noodles and vegetables more than the broth. Ramen can also be shio (salt) or miso-based. Ramen Misoya’s dishes are a complex combination of rich miso broth, succulent noodles and all the particular additions—a full-on taste sensation, more developed than the one miso ramen choice some noodle shops offer. Each noodle-soup menu item is typical to a specific region of Japan.
The popular Ramen Misoya in the East Village, was opened by chef/owner Norimitsu “Nori” Nishida in 2011 as the only NYC ramen restaurant dedicated exclusively to miso ramen. Chef Nori is from Tokyo and has a hands-on knowledge of every regional ingredient. All the dishes are expertly flavored and presented; a feast for the eyes and stomach.
Of course, I had to try the Kyoto-style Shiro Miso Cha-Shu Ramen. Shiro means “white” in Japanese. This is a gentle, less salty and more sweet and mild soup than red miso. It’s topped with a pork Cha-Shu, a pressed meat roll sliced into flat, round discs and served on top together with ground pork, bean sprouts, scallions, seasoned bamboo shoots and a miso-flavored egg. It is superbly tasty and fulfilling, like all of the dishes.
Many of the other noodle-bowl selections also include the same elements, plus fried tofu, other additions and some subtractions. I have listed the special ramens below to call attention to them, however, I recommend fully reading the menu at the restaurant or online since there is something there for everyone. There are sixteen Ramen Bowls to choose from, all variations on a theme of noodles and soup with vegetables and some kind of meat. There are also twelve vegetarian options that feature vegetarian broth made with mushrooms and seaweed, all of which are enriched with different types of miso.
To start, I recommend the Black Pepper Tuna which has a western-fusion mustard sauce drizzled on top and the Pork Gyoza which are unusually scallion-rich and super tasty. For vegetarians, Sautéed Shishito Peppers, Hijiki Salad and Seaweed Salad are all good choices.
There is no dessert, however, my fellow journalist at WestView News, Caroline Benveniste and I had the yuzu sake to finish the meal, mainly because we both love yuzu and had never had anything like this before.
It is balanced and light, cleansed the palate and cured any sweet cravings. There are adequate selections of beer, wine and sake, soft drinks and ocha (green tea).
Here’s a list of the featured Miso Ramen dishes.
- Hokkaido Style Come Miso: Standard rich flavor, soybean paste
- Nagoya Style Came Miso: Dark red, bitter finish soybean paste
- Kyoto Style Shiro Miso Cha-Shu Ramen
- Goma Tan Tan Ramen with shiro miso and high-quality sesame paste, a rich and creamy soup
- Miso Curry Chicken Tatsu Ramen with a crispy chicken cutlet, ground pork, the other vegetables and pickled daikon radish
They are closed Tuesdays
Open Wed – Mon 5 -10 pm