Yuji Ramen is a small start-up that’s received a lot of press in the city recently. Besides starting a small stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg this spring, they’ve also been operating a small pop-up shop here at the Bowery Whole Foods. Until then, they’ve been raising funds for their permanent location, which included starting a Kickstarter fund!
Which is how my co-worker got an extra ticket for me at one of chef Yuji’s RSVP-only omakase dinners.
The omakase is 5 courses, each with a themed protein.
You start off with a little dish of house-picked veggies.
Simple! Tart. Yummy… I finished this little paper board right away but realized too late that it would’ve been smart to eat these as a palate-cleanser in between courses… House cured salmon with camembert cheese, heavy cream, lemon oil and salmon skin on ramen. On top is juilienned shiso leaf, toasted nori and some furikake-like seasoning. I’m still getting used to fish but this salmon was beautiful and a pleasure to eat. Not fishy at all! The texture of these noodles is just fantastic- bouncy and al dente.
The salmon mazemen was a great riff on “breakfasty” lox and cream cheese flavors. Qho knew cheese could be so good on ramen noodles?
Next up was house-made squid ink oricchette pasta with a savory squid ragu.
Oricchette pasta is a tiny, ear-shaped pasta with a little divet in the middle. At Yuji’s, they are made with little ridges to catch the sauce, also making them look like small black shells. Again, very clever presentation. The squid was cooked tender and ground very fine before it was cooked down for the tomato-based ragu.
Also with a breakfast touch, the squid oricchette was topped with an herbed, english muffin crumble.
Next up was the uni, or sea urchin, course. I’d never had it before! Its like eating a buttery, oystery foam. In this case the uni was served in the form of a ravioli made with ramen dough. It was stuffed with uni, and then topped with more uni.
Shiso, nori, and this time nasturtium petals garnish the ravioli, and it is finished with a ponzu-based sauce (citrusy soy sauce… one of my favorites). It was creamy, buttery, smooth, and just a little bit sweet and tart from the sauce.
The next oyster based dish was definitely one of the most experimental! This time we received two bowls. The one picture below is the first – featuring chilled cubes of ramen broth gelatin, ponzu dashi gelee, oyster, cucumber, celery, and torched bacon.
We were then instructed to tip the contents of this glass bowl into a separate dish of hot ramen noodles. The gelatin started melting immediately upon contact.
The best part was taking a bite of ramen with the raw oyster at the same time. It was like getting a BURST of ocean, and sea-salt. The saltiness cut through the lip-smacking fat coating the noodles.. with a gentle crunch from the cucumber.
In prepping for the next course, an array of tiny, single-serving french presses were brought out. Again, the breakfast inspiration!
To start, chef Yuji torched fresh mussels until the shells were opened and just a bit charred.
The mussels were then separated, with the shells placed in the french presses, along with bonito flakes, and later, ramen broth.
Prepping the ramen with a sprinkling of more bonito.
Letting the broth steep for a bit, we were invited to “press” and strain the broth.
Right into a waiting bowl of noodles, much thinner than the mazemen noodles, and also including some of the torched mussel meat from earlier.
The shells gave the broth a very smokey, deep flavor, and the bite of oyster brought me back to the herbal soups that my grandma used to make. I much prefer this type of broth over the heavy, gelatinous tonkotsu broths that make my tummy hurt. This was light and flavor-rich… and tastes like home.
To end, while the photos look fabulous and decadent, the experience itself was wonderfully on the low-down and totally unpretentious. Remember that we were sitting right on the counter, just like at any lunch counter, and people would sometimes stop and look over our shoulders to see what was what.
Best of all, my co-worker and my talky selves got to chat with the chefs right over the counter and were comfortable asking any and all the questions we wanted. There was no divide between consumer and producer. It was clear that they love talking about food.
Luckily for you, Yuji has just extended their lease at the Bowery Whole Foods until the end of the summer! Tickets just went on sale so you can still reserve your seats for one of their tastings until August! It’s about $40 per seat and will sell out real fast.