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

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The Stand: A Comedy Club Where The Food is No Laughing Matter

When most people picture comedy clubs, good food is not what comes to their minds. Indeed, many prospective patrons may fear or resent the obligatory dining that accompanies many venues these days—fare which consists of little better than flat, overpriced drinks and dehydration-inducing, microwaved finger food. Fortunately, The Stand proves that enjoying both is totally feasible.

Atmosphere

Located in a section of Gramercy that is still deciding if it wants to be commercial or residential, The Stand looks fairly unassuming. Its glass-door exterior and neon light letters give it the appearance of a typical, small bar or club. However, it manages to make the most of its space. A staircase leads to the downstairs comedy club section. On the upstairs restaurant floor one finds plenty of seating room. To the left, one finds polished wooden tables with seating on either a plush-leather sofa or mahogany chairs. To the right, lies the equally cozy bar.  Engraved tin ceilings and a full-length, horizontal mirror add high-class charm to a casual dining space that is intimate, yet never seems too crowded.

The wait-staff consists of hip twenty-somethings that are well suited to engaging with people of any age, but are especially adept at making conversation with college kids. My waiter consistently refilled my water and asked me how I liked things. At The Stand, I felt like a new addition to a new, energetic group of friends. In general, everything felt laidback and fun.

The Food 

The food leans a little on the pricey side for the average twenty-something (pretty standard for the neighborhood), but the quality and innovativeness of the menu more than make up for the cost. It is important to clarify that The Stand features two menus—one with main courses for upstairs and one solely with appetizers downstairs. I recommend getting dinner upstairs before heading down.

After hearing several other customers call for order after order of them, I started with the Cheeseburger Dumplings for my appetizer. They come four to a plate on a bed of greens along with the delicious house sauce. The portion was deceptively small as I found high-quality beef and tons of cheese inside every bite. By the time I had finished, I felt as if I had eaten a medium-sized cheeseburger.

Cheese Burger Dumplings

Cheese Burger Dumplings

Made from a secret blend of condiments and a surprising ingredient (both of which I promised the hostess I wouldn’t reveal), the savory yet sweet and sour house sauce provided the perfect dipping opportunity for the dumplings and an excellent dressing for the greens.

Continuing to sample the menu’s most popular items, I tried the Truffle Mac ‘N’ Cheese—a side dish that I found as satiating as most main courses.  Baked in a large bowl and doused with enough truffle essence to perfume the air around me, it is an excellent value and can work as an appetizer to split or an entree.

Truffle Mac 'N' Cheese

Truffle Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Based on my waiter’s recommendation, I ordered the Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna for my main course.  I was presented with a very generous helping of sliced and seasoned tuna and a second well-dressed salad with a rich, creamy aioli sauce. The dish very much lived up to the menu’s claim of “sushi grade yellowfin!” Crackling and spicy on the sides, but succulent all-around, the tuna managed to exhibit excellent steak-like quality,

Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Yeah, that's a regular portion!

Pepper Crusted Seared Tuna. Yeah, that’s a regular portion!

For dessert, I enjoyed the Nutella Fondue Pot, which is composed of fresh fruit, just-baked cookies, and roasted marshmallows around an igneous pool of hazelnut-chocolate goodness. Apparently, it’s a hit with couples and people who pretend they eat healthy. If you’re with a group of people, then it’s a great way to split dessert. Unrepentantly single, I savored ever last bite by myself!

Nutella Fondue Pot. Being alone never tasted so good!

Nutella Fondue Pot. Being alone never tasted so good!

Completely stuffed after my meal, I lumbered downstairs for one of The Stand’s comedy shows. While I found myself too full to order anything downstairs, I was happy to note that both the Cheeseburger Dumplings and the Truffle Mac n’ Cheese could be ordered in the comedy club area.

Comedy Club Bonus 

For fifteen to twenty dollars, one can enjoy about an hour and a half of stand-up from some of the most celebrated comedians in New York.  I had the pleasure of seeing a performance from the famous Nick Dipaolo along with headliner Ari Shaffir and Mike Lawrence —all three of which have graced Comedy Central. Each routine felt wonderfully organic, building up from the one before it and always considering the audience. Religion, age, race, sexuality, and domestic violence were all fair game, but at no point did it seem like anybody in the room was offended. Everybody up there was a seasoned pro and in the short moments when the laughter died down, they had no problem taking a turn for the self-deprecating.

The Stand is a great place to take a friend, a relative, an acquaintance,  a date, or someone you plan on dumping for brunch, lunch, or a night out. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can hazard bringing Mom or Dad to the comedy club level, but you have been warned.

As the hostess assured me, “At the Stand, the food is no joke!” I might also add that either as a restaurant or a comedy club, The Stand stands on its own, but altogether, it presents some of the best Manhattan has to offer.

The Stand

239 3rd Ave (Between 19th and 20th) New York, NY 10003

(212) 677-2600.

Website: thestandnyc.com

Open from 11 to 5 PM for Lunch and 5 PM to 12 AM for Dinner from Sunday to Thursday, and 5 PM to 2 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. Brunch from 11:30 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.

View of the Comedy Club area

View of the Comedy Club area

History and Haggis at Incognito Bistro

Located on West 18th Street Between 5th and 6th Avenues, Incognito Bistro brings Italy and Scotland a short walk away from Union Square!

At a Glance

“I think I’ll have the risotto with some haggis to start!”— Words that I never foresaw myself saying! Dining in New York always inspires revolutionary cultures and tastes, but Incognito Bistro really sets a new standard, combining classic Italian favorites with delicious Scottish twists. Scottish-Italian owners Chef Paolo Montana and his wife, Adriana Moretti, who also acts as the restaurant’s hostess, have clearly succeeded in bringing their dual heritage to life just minutes away from Union Square and Gramercy in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, but trained in traditional Roman cuisine, Chef Paolo makes sure to stock his kitchen and menu with all the classic Italian staples. Regardless of national origin, however, every dish sings a different ballad of flavors.

The Food 

The meal started with the Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza, a dish that managed to be sweet, savory, and sour all at the same time as the overpowering saltiness of the fish found harmony with garden vegetables and fresh mozzarella. Next came the second starter, a refreshing Tuna Tartar, which combined succulent fish with a mix of summer fruits. The Green Pea Soup, a velvety silt of verdant cream, rounded out the starting courses.

Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza

Anchovie and Black Olive Pizza

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Green Pea Soup

Green Pea Soup

For me, the highlight of the meal could be found within the resolutely ethnic courses. Before Incognito, I had never thought I would try Haggis, a classic Scottish pudding of sheep meat and occasionally organs. Composed of tender lamb sausage and turnips over a bed of creamy potatoes soaked in whisky jus, Incognito’s variant had me hooked! The preparation and presentation brought something akin to a shepherd’s pie that eliminated any fears or doubts regarding such an exotic delicacy.

The Highland Haggis, a "national" treasure.

The Highland Haggis, a “national” treasure

Incognito continued to impress me with its pasta courses of which I sampled three: the San Paolo spaghetti drizzled with garlic and olive oil and topped with clams and pancetta (tender Italian bacon made from pork belly), a classic lasagna packed with meat, and mushroom risotto with porcini and truffle mushrooms.  Every single pasta dish was al dente as well as flavorful in its own way, but the risotto deserves special mention.

To my delight, Incognito carries through on all of its promises—the truffles were authentic and Italian in every possible way. The blast of earthy flavor coupled with lighter, sweeter hues of wine-infused broth created the most extraordinary of risottos!

Risotto with Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms and Spaghetti in Garlic and Olive Oil with Clams, Pancetta, and Chili Peppers

Risotto with Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms and San Paolo Spaghetti in Garlic and Olive Oil with Clams, Pancetta, and Chili Peppers

Classic Meat Lasagna in a Bechamel sauce of flour and butter.

Classic Meat Lasagna in a Bechamel Sauce of Flour and Butter

Additionally, for the allergic or health-conscious, Incognito also offers gluten-free and whole-wheat pasta alternatives on their menu.

Always generous, Chef Paolo allowed us to try both the Lemon Sole Fillet and Fillet Mignon for our main course. Topped with crispy breadcrumbs and a lemony white wine sauce over whipped potatoes, the Sole disappeared with a crunch as it melted in my mouth. The Fillet Mignon on the other hand was something to sit back and enjoy. Each bite presented a juicy, tender cut of meat. A combination of pepper corns, cognac, and cream made every bite a literal explosion of flavor. These classic entrees proved just as tasty as the appetizers and ethnic eats.

Sole Fish with bread crumbs, white wine, and lemon on a bed of mashed potatoes

Fillet of Sole  with Bread crumbs, White Wine, and Lemon on a Bed of Mashed Potatoes

Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Corns, Cognac, and Cream.

Fillet Mignon with Black Pepper Corns, Cognac, and Cream

If you’re thinking that I was completely stuffed after the first six or so courses, you’re correct, but Adriana insisted that we enjoy dessert, and after the first look and a bite, I made room. Our five dessert plate consisted of Coppa Scosseze, a Scotland-influenced mix of Ice Cream, Marscapone, and Butterscotch, Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake, and Chocolate Torte. All I can recommend is that you try them all at some point. Among other things, Chef Paolo also excels at ice cream, pastries, berry compotes, sauces, and chocolate.

Dessert Platter with Coppa Scozzese, Panna Cotta,  Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Tiramisu.

Dessert Platter with Coppa Scozzese, Panna Cotta, Cheesecake, Chocolate Torte, Tiramisu

The Atmosphere

Throughout our meal, and in between a rainbow of fine European wines, the whimsical Adriana entertained us with stories of Incognito’s crowning accomplishments. The restaurant has been certified as authentically Italian by culinary authorities from Italy. Its décor consists of original art and painted columns by a descendant of the Pre-Raphaelite Albert Moore. In terms of fashion, Incognito’s entire staff is even decked out with the first-recognized, official Scottish-Italian tartan, Clan Italia. Additionally on Tuesday nights, Incognito features live jazz music.

Incognito's Elegant Dining Room

Incognito’s Elegant Dining Room

View of the Bar

View of the Bar

All in all, Incognito Bistro brought my tastebuds and my heart a much-needed European vacation. Chef Paolo and Adriana have truly outdone themselves with creating an authentic, yet innovative dining experience. If you love Italian food, do yourself a favor and pay this establishment a visit, though be sure to try the Scottish offerings as well.

Be sure to send my regards to Chef Paolo and Adrianna. Their restaurant is a cultural and culinary gem.

Be sure to send my regards to Chef Paolo and Adriana when you visit!

Incognito Bistro
30 West 18th Street
(Between Fifth & Sixth Avenues)
New York, NY 10011
Website: incognitobistro.com
Open Monday to Saturday and closed on Sundays
Lunch is available from 11:30 to 4:00 and Dinner is on from 4:00 to 10:30 (11:00 on Saturdays). Happy hour is from 11:00 AM to 10:30 PM. All major credit cards accepted.

Incognito Bistro’s Dinner Menu