Miso ramen at Rai Rai Ken.

Last night’s dank and dreary weather required an infusion of warm comfort food – this according to my girlfriend, who decided that we should go to Rai Rai Ken, on E. 10th St. between 1st and 2nd Aves.  Hey, I’m in no position to argue: ramen is one of the better dinners I can think of on a cold night, and after yesterday’s disappointing yet filling lunch, I definitely wanted something on the lighter side of excellent (no more greasy golden bags!).

Rai Rai Ken is significantly more homey and homely than most of the other NYC noodleries that I’ve been to recently; its wooden bar and cramped, low seating leave you looking up at the cooks and waitress as though they were the gods of the cooked noodle, yet you feel like you’re being served these noodles at a cleaner version of Doc Holliday’s.  Odd, yet strangely comforting.

Our first taste of Rai Rai Ken’s excellent cuisine came in the form of edamame ($2.75), those boiled and salted soybeans that are most often tasty but sometimes difficult to eat, and even sometimes too salty (ideally, I think, edamame should have the same saltiness as a good batch of fries – does this make me a charlatan?).  Fortunately, Rai Rai Ken’s beans didn’t disappoint – not too salty, not too bland, cooked so that the beans pop right out of their protective skins.  I’d probably skip them next time given that the ramen portions are so large.  We didn’t try the Gyoza, but our neighbor’s batch looked delicious despite being of questionable value (unless as a meal itself) at $4.60.

Our ramen came rather promptly – my girlfriend had ordered the Shoyu variety ($6.95), which is soy sauce-based; I tried the Miso ramen ($7.40), which, as the name implies, is based on the tofu soup known as Miso.  I was particularly excited to try the Miso, because it’s not offered at Minca, and I was not disappointed – the soup was loaded with toasted sesame seeds, bean sprouts, scallions, onions, cabbage, garlic and tender pulled-off-the-bone chicken.  With the addition of a little of the milder of the two red spicy powders on the bar, the flavor balance was quite good.  The egg-based noodles themselves were not overcooked but not particularly al dente.  Again, the portioning at Rai Rai Ken is LARGE, with lots of goodies contained within, so don’t expect this to be a particularly light meal.

I didn’t get chance to try the broth of the Shoyu ramen, but it included the typical accoutrements – bamboo shoots, half a boiled egg, spinach, dry seaweed, scallions, and a slice of the pink-doodled slimy mystery substance known as “fish cake.”  The pork was quite good, on the fatty side, but didn’t possess the mysterious ability to marinate to the point of dissolution quite like Minca’s does.

We washed down our soup (makes no sense, I agree) with a pot of green tea ($2) which seemed to go from under-brewed to over-brewed in a matter of seconds, but that’s probably my fault.  Still, a nice change of pace from the tea I drink several times a week in Chinese restaurants.

We skipped the almond tofu dessert in favor of a walk to Rice to Riches, but from my prior experience with it in a restaurant and at home, you can expect a sort of weirdly textured (like instant flan) gelatinous (though it contains no gelatin) thing that tastes very almond-like.  Much less subtle than your average nut, of course.  I like it, but you can buy five boxes of it at Hong Kong Supermarket for the price of one serving here ($1.85), so I’d skip it unless you couldn’t live without it.

Rai Rai Ken is a couple bucks cheaper on average than Minca (and is cheaper still than the nearby Momofuku).  What do you sacrifice by eating here instead of there and saving a few bucks?  Well, the noodles aren’t quite as good as Minca, and I’ve had varying reports of the quality of the Shoyu broth (my roommate didn’t like it at all when he went months back), but I liked my Miso just fine.  There’s room for a noodlery priced somewhere between Minca and Hong Kong Station, I think, and I’m glad Rai Rai Ken is tastily filling the niche.

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3 Comments

Filed under NYC

3 responses to “Miso ramen at Rai Rai Ken.

  1. I haven’t had ramen in NYC yet, but I’ve been meaning to (I shall make my way to Rai Rai Ken at some point). I did have edamame today though, weird because I almost never eat it yet I’ve now had it…twice in the past week. Which means I’ve eaten it twice this year. :O I went to < HREF="http://menupages.com/restaurantdetails.asp?areaid=0&restaurantid=6016&neighborhoodid=0&cuisineid=0" REL="nofollow">Win49<> today for lunch. If you haven’t been there yet, it definitely fits in your $20 and under budget. 🙂

  2. Win49 looks quite intriguing, I’ll have to check it out. You should also check out Minca, the basic broth is almost TOO intense there, but with a little chili sauce…magnifique.

  3. I definitely agree with you on your positioning of Rai Rai Ken slightly below Minca. It’s my very satisfying go-to ramen place when I’m too lazy to walk over to east 5th st.

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