Our next adventure took us to Yuji Ramen on the Lower East Side to try their version of mazemen, which is basically ramen without the soup.
Yuji’s setup is pretty simple – an open kitchen surrounded on three sides by bar seating. You place your order directly with the cooks, who prepare everything right in front of you. We ordered the market pickles to share, one bacon and egg mazemen, and one salmon and cheese mazemen. The pickles were a nice appetizer for the ramen – crunchy, flavorful and fresh. While neither of us are experts with mazemen, Yuji’s was very good. Each dish seemed well balanced, with just the right amounts of sauce and toppings. The noodles were wide and thick, which was perfect for soaking up the sauce and for standing up to the rest of the ingredients. Without soup, the thicker noodles were definitely the way to go. I really thought my bacon and egg mazemen was well done. There were lots of flavors and ideas going on in the dish and I really liked that. The mazemen was able to balance Eastern and Western influences, while also straddling the line between breakfast and lunch food. The bacon was thick but cut into small bite-sized pieces and was cooked just the way I like it: firm, yet still chewy and not too crispy. When blended with the egg, the sauce had a rich sweetness to it that I really liked as well. Marion’s salmon and cheese mazemen was a similar blend of cultural ideas that was pulled off very well. The small pieces of salmon and the creamy texture that the warm cheese sauce had definitely reminded me of a bagel with lox and cream cheese. Overall, these dishes were inventive and delicious. They stayed true to Japanese tradition while also incorporating elements of American cuisine in interesting ways.
We would heartily recommend Yuji Ramen because of its delicious food. Unfortunately, it closed on July 31st. I’m not sure why they closed – it’s possible that the person or people in charge got tired of serving ramen and wanted to shift their focus. But I have a hard time believing that the stand’s location didn’t have something to do with it. Despite being one of the more acclaimed and talked-about ramen spots in New York City, there was not much of a crowd when we went at lunchtime, despite its high standing and the fact that it would be shutting down shortly. You would think that there would be more people like us, last minute bandwagoners wanting to get a taste of what has been described as a unique and scrumptious experience. I think that the fact that Yuji was on the second floor of a Whole Foods must have deterred some diehards from going. Not only that, it was somewhat hard to find! Sometimes, being in an out-of-the-way spot can be a big advantage for a restaurant as it creates an air of desirability and intrigue that draws people in. However, I have to believe that in this case, Yuji’s location worked against it becoming a long-term success. If it were still serving, this would definitely be a place to visit. An imaginary four stars out of five.
Extra note: While Yuji Ramen has closed at the Whole Foods location, they have a location in Brooklyn at 150 Ainslie St. While we are not sure whether they will be serving mazemen and ramen full time, it might be a worthwhile adventure. Cheers!