The lines have been out the door since this 25-seat (give or take) noodle shop opened in the East Village last Wednesday, which is no surprise considering 1) it's the first U.S. outpost of an apparently much-loved Tokyo chain; 2) owner Charlie Huh's been bragging to whomever will listen that THIS is what authentic ramen tastes like, and is much better than what that Chang character is slinging a few blocks away at Momofuku.
Christ, how can New York noodle-heads not check it out?
And so there I was on Saturday evening, beating the rush by arriving before 6:30, though there was still a bit of a wait. The menu is extremely limited, especially since they were out of Gyoza, but no matter. I was here for the ramen.... and, as it turns out, for the Shio-Tama ("salt taste egg"), which was my starter and which was somewhere between soft- and hard-boiled and which was far better than it had any right to be: intensely eggy, nicely salty and slippery.
Then came the main event, the Cha-syu-men, or Pork BBQ Salt Ramen, which I'd say was also the choice of 80% of my fellow diners, 90% of whom were Asian. And, yes, this is an excellent bowl of food. The broth is delicious—meaty, fishy, rich, complex—and the ramen noodles are outstanding, with the perfect bite. But. The egg, which worked so well on the side, didn't add much here. The scallion was over-played, and in fact there was one disconcerting bite during dinner that was made up entirely of a tangled nest of these long, finely sliced onions. Most egregious, the pork—the centerpiece of Momofuku's offering—was a huge disappointment here: four medallions, all dry, chewy and flavorless. I imagine this was a kitchen error rather than standard procedure, but still....
Setagaya is located on First Avenue, just north of St. Mark's Place. The noodle bar shares the space with another restaurant—the soon-to-opened Oriental Spoon—and so is oddly penned in behind walls of plexiglass. Right now they accept cash only.