We're not afraid to say it: There's too much ramen in this city.
Well, too much of the same (very good) things: Rich pork tonkotsu, seaweed-laden vegetable ramen and chicken-y paitan are a dime a dozen.
But, finding a big, steaming bowl of beef ramen? It's a challenge, unless you wander way up Second Avenue to two-month-old Mei-Jin Ramen on 82nd Street.
There, past the heavy wooden doors, trios of tiny tables with wooden cubes for chairs and huge woven basketlike lamps hanging overhead, chef and co-owner Koji Miyamoto is making a wonderful, delicately funky beef ramen that's all too rare in NYC.
Chef and co-owner Koji Miyamoto | Shaking out just-cooked noodles
"We have it in Japan, but it's not too popular. Usually, it's a clear beef soup, but here I wanted a creamy beef broth," Miyamoto explains. "Plus, Americans like the beef, right?"
Indeed we do.
Whereas you have to reserve a late-night bowl of offal-heavy beef ramen at Takashi or wait until fall for a seasonal braised rib version at Ganso, here, Nagoya native and former sushi chef Miyamoto dedicates an entire section of his menu to beef ramen. There's a plain one seasoned with a bit of soy ($10) and another spiked with chile oil ($11), but the best is the namesake ramen muddled with miso ($13).
To make it, Miyamoto tosses only beef bones (60 pounds of it!) into a giant stock pot with water and simmers vigorously for 13 hours until the liquid is gelatin thickened and nicely beef infused. He sprinkles in the aromatics later on–garlic, ginger and scallion–so as not to disturb the supremely meaty taste.
The rest of the magic takes only about two minutes: Miyamoto grabs a bowl and sloshes in a miso-heavy tare, a pungent sauce of soy, mirin, sake and some bonito, and then a ladleful of the beef broth. Cooked noodles–a special order of thinner, more wavy egg- and wheat-based noodles from Sun Noodle—are laid to rest in the bowl. Finally, the usual suspects find their rightful places: bean sprouts, pink coins of naruto, fermented bamboo known as menma and skinny, mirin- and sake-cooked strips of beef that you'd normally see in Japanese hot pot.
Signs hanging inside the ramen shop | Miyamoto stirring a vat of beef broth
Eating this ramen is like putting together a puzzle of deliciousness: Corn kernels burst with sweetness, menma adds earthiness, slivers of scallion and arugula lend some brightness and the soy-spiked beef broth brings it all together.
The bowl is sweetly gamey and warming—as much an answer to this city's beef ramen void as it is the perfect thing to scarf down now that the air's getting thin and cool.
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