>> Thursday, May 24, 2012
Ramen is hot hot hot in Boston right now.
It's inexplicable, but for some reason there's apparently a vast shortage of good ramen in this city, and people are sitting, glued to their computers, hoping to have a chance to experience a seriously good bowl of ramen.
In some ways it's true. There really aren't that many ramen places in this city. Ken's Ramen Shop in Allston closed last year, and it seems like the only other place left is Sapporo Ramen in Porter Square, whose five or so tables just can't seem to fill the demand of the entire city (evidenced by the perpetual long lines outside).
So what do you do when there's tons of demand?
You fill it, of course.
Soon after the Guchi's Midnight Ramen craze began, Ken Oringer jumped on the ramen train by offering late night ramen at Uni (his Sashimi bar next to Clio) from 11PM - 2AM on Friday and Saturday evenings. Oringer says he's been wanting to do ramen for years, and this worked perfectly with the reopened renovated Uni space. Soon after, Myers + Chang followed suit and added it to their lunch menu as well.
A couple weekends ago, a group of us decided to skip normal dinner to visit Uni to slurp some ramen into the wee hours of the morning.
Uni is the downstairs cousin adjacent to the fancy and upscale Clio. During normal hours Uni is a sashimi bar that serves creative renditions of Japanese-inspired raw fish dishes. Right at 11PM, the ramen bar takes over.
The menu is pretty small and is hand-scrawled on a piece of cardboard right at the bar. There were four of us, so it was pretty simple to order the entire menu. We also sat at the bar, which gave us the best views of the chefs preparing our food.
Most of the prep work has been done beforehand. The broth has been simmering for hours, and the various components are neatly chopped and stored in uniform plastic containers.
Even the perfectly cooked two-hour eggs (perhaps made sous vide or slowly poached under low temperatures?) seem to already be done, housed in a pot of their own.
There's only one choice for sake, Momokawe Silver Sake, which is served in a cute bamboo container. It tastes pretty good - mild and clean, a good contrast to the rest of the food, which is savory, rich, and full of umami.
We start with the Fried Shishito Peppers.
Are these spicy? Maybe. It was really like playing Russian Roulette. If you were lucky, the pepper wasn't spicy at all. However, every so often, a random unsuspecting member of our party would take one bite and immediate begin sweating.
I was never so unlucky, so my impression of this dish is that it's mild, reasonably tasty, and a nice way to start the meal. However, be forewarned!
Zojirushi Hot Dog
"What in the world is a Zojirushi hot dog?" we all wondered. We were all familiar with the rice cooker, but as a type of hot dog??
Out came a deep fried hot dog topped with pickled bean sprouts and a miso-mustard sauce. It was OK, I guess, but I was not particularly impressed. I'm not sure I love pickled vegetables on top of my hot dog. I'd probably skip it next time.
The Pork Bun, on the other hand, was very good. The fatty pork belly had the perfect balance of crispy exterior and juicy interior. The bun itself was nice and soft, and the overall balance of flavors was perfect.
Unfortunately, I could not say the same about the Duck Bun, which was too dry.
Bryan and I both ordered the Umami ramen, a fascinating broth made from ten different kinds of mushrooms plus a Parmesan rind. It's served with a generous piece of barbecued eel (unagi) along with scallions, bean sprouts, seaweed (nori), and a two-hour egg.
I'm so sad to say this, but we were disappointed.
Though the noodles are purportedly homemade, they were too soft, overcooked, and lacked the chewy al dente "Q" texture that we were seeking.
The broth was full of umami, as promised. However, I found the intense umami of the broth coupled with the rich and fatty eel to be a bit too much. When a broth is that thick and rich, you almost wish for a leaner meat (or some sort of vegetable) to balance the entire dish out. A part of me dreamed about the lighter yet still very flavorful seafood-based broth I had enjoyed at Guchi's Midnight Ramen.
I appreciate the creative effort put into this "twist" on a traditional dish. However, sometimes there's a reason why the traditional version has stuck around for so long.
Pork Traditional Ramen
Thankfully, the traditional pork ramen was quite solid. It's a dashi and chicken based miso broth served with roasted pork shoulder, scallions, nori, and a two-hour egg. The noodles were still more overcooked than we would have liked. However, the flavors were balanced, and the two-hour egg was delicious.
Green tea ice cream with ginger cookies
I knew I had to try at least one dessert. Although I typically only like chocolate sandwich cookies, I was very pleasantly surprised here. I really really liked the dessert. The ginger cookies had a strong ginger flavor, further accented by small bits of chopped crystallized ginger throughout. It was chewy and dense, and worked quite well with the green tea ice cream.
It was tough waiting until 11PM to eat dinner. Although it was fun and sort of exciting to come out to Uni so late on a Friday night to try their ramen menu, I came away with mixed feelings.
Sure, some aspects of the evening were great. The space is lovely, the ambiance is hip, and the service was fine. We really enjoyed the pork buns, the shishito peppers, and the dessert. The traditional ramen (minus the slightly overcooked noodles) was still one of the better ones in the city, especially for $10.
However, nothing was so good that made it worth it (for me, at least), to wait until 11PM to trek out to the city for dinner.
Maybe if Uni ever offers ramen for lunch, or an earlier dinner, I would consider returning. For now, however, I'm perfectly happy slurping my Sapporo Ramen or waiting until I get lucky enough to try another one of Guchi's creations.
370a Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215