Yuji Ramen: The Little Test Kitchen That Could

A Little Rant

Ramen, like sushi, is a Japanese dish that has nestled itself into America’s eating consciousness, though this isn’t always a positive thing. Ask a typical American college student what they think of ramen and you might get a groan or a chuckle and maybe a story about “that one week I couldn’t leave my dorm” or an anecdote about the dangers of a high sodium diet. Like several actors’ careers (I’m looking at you Adam Sandler), ramen appears to get by due to its ease of preparation, availability, and overall infamy–people are willing to overlook just how cheap and terrible for their life it might because it’s a familiar, reliable poison. However, I digress. Most of these grievances are reserved for the microwave and instant variants of ramen. Put simply, there is good, gourmet ramen out there, just not at most grocery stores. . . Whole Foods on the Bowery, however, is a game changer!

Revolutionary Ramen

Located in the form of a counter on the second floor of an ordinary-looking Whole Foods, Yuji Ramen is an extraordinary eatery that takes one’s assumptions about ramen and flambes them into sweet, delicious oblivion. Starting off as a Smorgasburg vendor then a Whole Foods-sponsored pop up shop, Yuji’s popularity has earned it a permanent placement upstairs and a large, loyal following. After eating countless bowl upon bowl of noodle-filled Nirvana, I have to say this positive reception is completely deserved.

Most people might doubt that a ramen-based restaurant could succeed in catering to different clients and tastes, but Yuji offers customers two radically different types of ramen.

The “Daily Shoyu” is your typical meat broth-based ramen but comes with the added twist of being different just about every day. Using fresh cuts of meat from the Whole Foods butcher, Yuji ensures a uniquely delicious experience every day of the week. From blue fish to tuna to mussels to pork to turkey, the shoyu is a favorite for carnivores and a delight on a cold winter day.

Daily Shoyu with Blue and Lamb

Daily Shoyu with Bluefish and Lamb

The second type of ramen is the “mazeman” a newer variant that is made without broth and cooked by an open flame. Using a profusion of savory oils, fresh ingredients that alternate between crunchy and gooey, and perfectly firm and textured noodles, Yuji’s mazeman is a refined kind of ramen that one might liken to an al-dente pasta dish. Instead of your standard pork or chicken, Yuji brings customers original and dazzling concoctions like Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg with Kale or Salmon and Cheese. Spicy Tuna and Uni Miso (Sea Urchin) also have their own mazeman on the menu. For vegetarians, there’s also a Miso Roasted Vegetable mazeman, though I admit I have never sampled it because of my love for the meat and seafood selections.

Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg Mazeman on the left, Uni Miso cooked in Sake on the right.

Smokey Bacon and Poached Egg Mazeman on the left, Uni Miso cooked in Sake on the right.

At roughly $9 a pop, Yuji’s prices are reasonable for an up and coming business, and certainly for the quality of the ramen you get. I typically find that one Shoyu leaves me stuffed. However, when it comes to the mazeman, I usually try to make room for two–they’re just THAT yummy. For $12 you can get the combo with cold barley tea and pickled vegetables on the side. Starting this year, Yuji is offering a small selection of desserts.  Additionally, every month, Yuji offers a full seven-course Omakase (Chef’s Choice) Dinner. I plan on sampling it and presenting my findings later this year.

If you like creamy things, meat or fish, or noodles of any kind, then I highly recommend you give Yuji a visit soon–you’ll probably run into me sometime!

Yuji Ramen

Address: 95 E. Houston Street, 2nd floor. 

Phone Number: 212-420-1320, extension. 281

Website: http://yujiramen.com

Open all week from 11 AM to 9:30 PM.

Artistic Rendering of Yuji's Mazeman Selection

Artistic Rendering of Yuji’s Mazeman Selection

Masq Makes Mardi Gras a Manhattan Occasion

New Orleans might be almost 1500 miles away from Manhattan, but husband and wife duo George and Nora Chaprastian change reality into a Mardi Gras parade at Masq, a New American and New Orleans-inspired restaurant that livens up Midtown East. Named after the lively masquerades associated with Louisiana’s capital, Masq whisks diners away from the hustle and bustle of its Manhattan location. With a dazzling array of colorful Christmas lights, beautifully haunting Italian masks, and luxurious vintage furniture, it really brings the ball to its diners.

Executive Chef Marc Getzelman directs Masq’s food and pastries as well as its wine, always making sure to complement each of his dishes with an appropriate drink. We were treated to a feast of New American appetizers and New Orleans classics, each crafted with meticulous precision and impeccable style like the rest of Masq’s dining experience.

The Macaroni and Cheese Croquettes with Bacon and Jalapeno were an all-around great way to start our meal. I found the tangerine-hued remoulade sauce quite courteous. It added a moderate amount of tanginess that did not interfere with the more delicate flavors in the macaroni and cheese. With a pescatarian diner in our presence, Chef Marc was more than happy to accommodate our table with a bacon-free version.

Mac 'N' Cheese Croquette with Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeño. Served with Spicy Remoulade Sauce

Mac ‘N’ Cheese Croquette with Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeño. Served with Spicy Remoulade Sauce

Our second bite came in the form of the Prosciutto Fig Flatbread–a highlight of the evening for me as it managed to be light, savory, sweet, and filling all at once. Hefty portions of prosciutto, swirls of sweet goat cheese, and summery arugula leaves enhanced the thin, crunchy slices. In terms of texture and flavor, I found it to be a perfectly balanced treat and won’t hesitate to order it again. Chef Marc mentioned to us that flatbread has always been a part of Masq’s repertoire, but that the prosciutto-decked variant started off as a special that ascended to the main menu based on popular demand. I wholeheartedly support that motion. Chef Marc and the Chaprastians reassured us that they are always open to customer feedback and that the evolution of the menu is part of what makes Masq a great restaurant.

Prosciutto Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula

Prosciutto Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula

The third and final appetizer was the Asian Marinated Salmon. Normally I find myself a tad skeptical of things labelled “Asian” on any menu, but Masq’s Honey Garlic Soy Sauce assuaged my doubts and has my approval. The addition of honey to a well-executed soy garlic sauce created a new innovation in sweet and sour for this salmon. Perfectly marinated to a dark crisp on the outside and served over a bed of fresh greens, Masq’s salmon dresses to impress.

Asian Marinated Salmon -  Served in Honey Garlic Soy Sauce with Mixed Greens

Asian Marinated Salmon – Served in Honey Garlic Soy Sauce with Mixed Greens

Each of the New American appetizers impressed me. I would’ve been happy to eat a meal solely composed of the Flatbread and the Salmon. They were the kind of dishes that embody a summer picnic for me—a welcome respite from a cold winter evening. However, it was the Louisiana-style cuisine that really warmed my palette that night with jazzy seafood entrees that definitely warrant a taste whether you’ve been to New Orleans or not.

Served on a sweet Hawaiian roll, Masq’s Shrimp Po’ Boy tastes decidedly rich despite its namesake—a welcome change! Succulent yet crunchy shrimp dusted off with pure chili powder on the most luscious of buns made for a winning sandwich. With the powder on the side, I could happily adjust the amount of kick in the sandwich to my liking.

Shrimp Po' Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll with Coleslaw

Shrimp Po’ Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll with Coleslaw

Masq gave us a classic Jambalaya for its final course.  Now, Jambalaya is one of the first dishes that comes to mind when one thinks of Cajun food. A rice, seafood, and meat dish punctuated with plenty of punch, I’ve come to think of it as the spicy, younger sister of Paella, the dish’s Spanish predecessor and a personal favorite. As a supertaster, I found myself a little hesitant to try the Jambalaya at first. True to tradition, the rice dish brought an intense, fiery flavor that emanated primarily from the peppery Andouille sausage. However, Masq presented a more nuanced incarnation, cooling their Jambalaya’s heat with the addition of fresh, cool goat cheese that balanced out the overall spiciness of the dish and provided a rich, creamy counterpoint. These little tweaks really allow Masq to stand out from their competition as it very much retains the authenticity of Louisiana’s cuisine without steamrolling the experience onto less spice-savvy diners.

Masq's Jambalaya consists of Cajun Spiced Chicken, Andouille Sausage, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese. Make sure to mix the goat cheese!

Masq’s Jambalaya consists of Cajun Spiced Chicken, Andouille Sausage, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese. Make sure to mix that goat cheese!

For dessert, we were treated to Sabayon, a deliquescent egg custard topped with fresh whipped cream and a quartet of berries. Elegantly served in a champagne glass, the Sabayon gave us a soothing and refreshing finish to a sizzling dinner with strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry adding vivid colors and aromas to an already fluffy dessert. Once more, I enjoyed a sweet taste of summer!

Sabayon with Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry (not pictured here), and Whipped Cream

Sabayon with Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry (not pictured here), and Whipped Cream

Aside from its delectable food offerings, Masq has a lovely horseshoe shaped bar with full service and a massive assortment of wine and liquor selections. However, for me, Masq’s main attraction lies in its private party lounge. The Red Room is simply a work of opulence with red velvet curtains and furniture, Persian rugs, fanciful sconces, and beautifully-crafted vintage decor. Whether you’re looking for a reasonably priced bite to eat, a break from your regular Manhattan routine, or a space for your next party, Masq has something for every New Yorker or out of towner looking for an authentic dining experience.

From 8 to 11 pm on Thursday nights, Masq brings in live music to enhance the party vibe.  When the season comes, Chef Marc also promises crawfish on the menu.

From 8 to 11 pm on Thursday nights, Masq brings in live music to enhance the party vibe. When the season comes, Chef Marc also promises crawfish on the menu.

The Red Room seats 45 and makes an ideal location for your next party!

The Red Room seats 45 and makes an ideal location for your next party!

Masq

Address: 306 East 49th Street (Between First & Second Avenues)

New York, NY 100017

Website: www.masqny.com

Phone: (212) 644-8294

Hours

Lunch: 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday to Friday.

Dinner:  4:00 PM  to 10:00 PM, Monday to Wednesday. 4:00 PM  to 1:00 AM, Thursday to Saturday.

Happy Hour runs from 4 PM to 8 PM from Monday to Friday  (1/2-price on specialty cocktails and select global wines by the glass).

Closed on Sundays.

Masq’s Lunch Menu

Masq’s Dinner Menu