11 February 2011

Coast to Coast Ramen: Lukshon Chef's LA Favorite, Santouka Ramen, and NY Hot Spot, Momofuku Noodle Bar

Momofuku Ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar

The ramen craze may have reached its apex a few years back, but my love for rich broth, springy noodles, crisp vegetables, and fatty pork has never waned. A couple weeks ago I tried Momofuku Noodle Bar in Manhattan's East Village, a place I'd wanted to try since it opened, but had never had the time to wait in its long lines. When I returned to LA and tried Sang Yoon's Lukshon a few days later, I fell in love with his restaurant and read everything about him I could find online, including a New York Times' interview that listed four of his favorite restaurants. One was Santouka Ramen in Culver City, so I knew I had to check it out. Friday to Friday, coast to coast, which would have the better ramen?

I cut my ramen teeth at Minca, a small ramen shop below my previous apartment in Alphabet City. When I was too hungover or it was too cold to go outside, I would run downstairs in my sweats to pick up a huge bowl of Minca ramen to take home to enjoy with Project Runway reruns. The considerable effort required to climb five flights of stairs demonstrates my reliance on Minca's healing powers and my first ramen love left its mark. I generally crave a Minca-style ramen -- one with plenty of fat and salt.

Miso Ramen, Pork with Rice and Salmon Roe with Rice at Santouka Ramen

Santouka offers just that. Their miso ramen gave me a euphoric feeling that continued after lunch as I wandered the aisles of the Mitsuwa Marketplace in which it's located, overwhelmed and excited by the offerings of sakes, shochus, sojus, pastries, candies and sushi grade fish. My mother, grandmother and I shared the regular set plate of miso ramen with a side of salmon roe on rice and an additional side of pork on rice. For $14.78 (incl. tax) we stuffed ourselves and still had leftovers. We're not the biggest eaters, but it's rare for the three of us to so thoroughly enjoy a lunch out for less than $15.

New York's Momofuku Noodle Bar presents a lighter, healthier-feeling version of ramen with pedigreed ingredients. I played it semi-traditional on my first visit and ordered Momofuku ramen -- pork belly, pork shoulder, poached egg -- and steamed pork buns. The namesake ramen was fresh but not as rich and salty as I usually crave in ramen. I enjoyed the contemporary space and lively environment and will return to sample their more creative offerings, such as foie gras ramen.

A big bowl of ramen is always soothing and has become one of those foods I seek for comfort. Santouka and Momofuku satisfy different moods. When in New York I'll walk to Momofuku for avant-garde ramen. When in LA I'll drive to Santouka for that classic ecstatic rush of salt and fat. Two ramens, two coasts, two moods. What's your go-to ramen spot?

1 comment:

  1. Now you have me in the mood for a big bowl of noodle soup! These look so comforting and delish!