The Eighteenth Adventure: Mentoku

Wow, another update so soon after the last one! Hope you’re as excited as I am typing this right now! Last weekend we found ourselves out with a group of friends for a birthday excursion. Since New York was still recovering from the huge blizzard that had rolled in, we figured that some hot, hearty ramen would be the right choice for dinner. Marion found Mentoku, a new spot in Hell’s Kitchen and we set out on a new quest.

Mentoku is conveniently located right around the block from Ippudo and Totto, two very popular ramen shops in Hell’s Kitchen. This is definitely good, as it gives the shop the potential to soak up extra customers from those establishments (i.e. people who don’t want to wait for one to two hours just to sit down). Foot traffic shouldn’t be a problem either, as there are many other restaurants and bars nearby with the Theater District being close. The restaurant itself is small, with just a few tables and a six or seven spots at the bar. It’s definitely not a place you would want to bring a large group. Even at five people, I felt like we were pushing it. The interior is trendy, with dark walls with minimal decorative art and an open kitchen so you can see the food preparation process.

We started our meal with agedashi tofu and chicken karaage. Of these, the group preferred the tofu, which was delicately fried and had a nicely-balanced soy flavor to the sauce. Agedashi tofu is always a favorite dish of mine and it’s great to eat with ramen (at least in my opinion). The karaage was less of a hit. It was tender and juicy, but the outside wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked.

20160124_180140Agedashi Tofu

20160124_180630Karaage

The ramen itself was good but not outstanding. All five of us ended up ordering some variety of tonkotsu (pork broth) noodles. What was interesting was that there appeared to be two corresponding versions of the tonkotsu broth. The one that I had was lighter in both taste and color. To me it almost had a soy-like saltiness to it. Both versions had some nice depth and character to them, but they were not packed with flavor. One friend also mentioned that his noodles were slightly overcooked, and had become soggy by the time he finished his bowl. The toppings, however were a bright spot. The sliced pork chashu, kikurage and scallions in mine all seemed fresh. Mentoku’s  service was good too, and the staff was very polite and accommodating of our larger party. Our server even shouted our appetizers out to the kitchen after we ordered, which we all liked because it was unexpected and fun.

20160124_180814Genryu Tonkotsu Ramen

20160124_181103

It hasn’t really hit me until this review how many places we’ve been to (and there are plenty that Marion and I have been to separately that haven’t made it onto the blog yet). We’re quickly approaching our twentieth official ramen quest. Having visited a sizable number of different ramen places in New York, there are some that have really stood out from the rest as especially memorable. Places like Mu and Ippudo, just to name a few, separate themselves because of their careful attention to the customer’s entire experience from the moment they walk in. Others like Ivan or the recently-reviewed Zundo-ya dedicate themselves to reinventing what ramen means or extreme specialization in one regional taste. Others like Naruto and Terakawa, while they may not stack up to these trendier establishments on paper nevertheless leave you feeling satisfied, comforted, and wanting to return. Mentoku unfortunately falls a bit short of this latter category. It is not nice enough, and the food isn’t tasty or bold enough to compete with well-established places like Ippudo or Momofuku. The meal did not leave me with a lasting memory or impression of it. I don’t feel the same desire to go back that I had after going to other places. Even writing this a few days after going, I’m finding that Mentoku and its food are average and not particularly memorable. This is not to say that this shop is bad. It is perfectly average, and a good option if you are in the neighborhood craving ramen and Ippudo and Totto happen to have long waits. There is also room for it to improve, as is the case with many new places. We give Mentoku three stars out of five.

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