Rai Rai Ken
I was in the East Village last Saturday afternoon, just killing some time solo before going to an early movie, when I got hit with a hankering for some ramen. Sadly, it was still too early for the great Momofuku to be open... happily, I live in a city with many, many eating options, and so I used the opportunity to finally sit at the battered bar of Rai Rai Ken, and for the first time sample some of their much-lauded noodles.
There are only about 15 seats here (they may have some tables out back in the summer), nearly all of which were taken at 4:00 in the afternoon. I asked the chef which was the best of the three soup options, and took his suggestion on the Shoyu Ramen, with, I think, mixed results. The rich, aromatic, soy-sauce based broth was eminently slurpable, and the generous tangle of ramen noodles was terrific: tasty and with just the right amount of snap. The toppings, however, failed to keep up with the soup's strong foundation: there were a few soggy bamboo shoots; one smallish, sad-looking piece of roast pork, which had me longing for the braised neck meat of Momofuku's beautiful Berkshire swine; too many scallions; a half of a hard-boiled egg (not to belabor the comparison, but the poached egg at Momofuku contributes a lot more flavor and texture to its dish); some scattered spinach leaves, no promised fish cake, and one dried seaweed square. I also ordered the Gyoza dumplings which, although appropriately greasy and plump with a vegetable and pork filling, mostly just tasted like scallions.
I don't mean to sound too negative, as this was not a bad meal by any means, especially for the $12 price tag. But there was nothing here that got me too excited, either. Rai Rai Ken is on 10th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues... right around the corner from Momofuku.