141 First Avenue between St. Mark’s Place and 9th Street
about $30 each for three, with sake, with tip
What shoyu, or soy sauce, ramen is to Rai Rai Ken is shio to Setagaya. Shio, or salt, ramen is the only type available at Setagaya, so you better like it more than you do your pork bone type, or tonkotsu, or fermented soybean paste, or what we all know as miso.
I walked in with two other friends who were craving a hot bowl of soup for dinner and I suggested that we try Setagaya. It was cold outside so the line that snaked around First Avenue when the restaurant first opened is now gone, but the cold air has moved inside with the customers. The glass wall does not help. We sat tucked in the corner by the kitchen bar, but every time someone came in, we felt a chill. We ate our dinner wearing our coats and sharing two small bottles of sake.
Setagaya follows the traditional shio broth recipe that includes boiling dried seafood, like anchovies and scallops, for hours at a time. In fact, all that saltiness comes from the ocean. The broth is not clear because it is also flavored with pork that’s been barbecued on a charcoal grill. It sounds good, but we all had the same complaint: the broth tastes too much of barbecue. The secret ingredient is reportedly Vietnamese salt, and boy, was it salty. I love shio ramen because it’s lighter than the other types, but the charred and salty flavors didn’t meld the night we visited.
The noodles, though, were perfect in texture and stringiness. I love my ramen noodles a little chewy and meaty, and Setagaya’s reminded me of those $5 giant bowls I ate in Tokyo’s ramenyas oh so many years ago. Stick with the regular size when you visit, though, because you can only have so much barbecue and salt flavor in your ramen.
Rai Rai Ken is a couple of blocks west
More Zen broth at Sobaya
Soba Koh is only open for dinner
Try somen noodles with roasted duck from Chinatown