It was less than a year ago when I professed, rather gushingly, of the excitement I felt that one of Japan's macho ramen virtuoso talents had opened up shop here in NYC.- http://www.chowhound.com/topics/412783 . I've never been a particular fan of shio (salt broth) ramen, but I was pleased with the cloying seafood complexity of Setagaya's broth, not to mention being smitten with the flat out delectable chashu pork slices. And their gooey half-boiled eggs were an added bonus. Tonight, I was reminded of just how fleeting the creation of quality ramen can be. The broth had lost the palatable softness it can get from long hours of simmering and I couldn't taste the level of "subtle complexity" that I recalled from last summer. While the menu promises three gauges of noodles, we were only served one. The onion portion was smaller but most disappointingly, the chashu has been replaced with bland chewy slices of pork meat. Subtleties of ramen broth are difficult to discern and differences can occur regularly and perhaps be written off as carelessness or simple failure. But with the chashu, it seems a conscious decision was made to serve this. Not a good decision at all. Maybe in between teaching the Korean cook Japanese and doing a sudoku puzzle, they could have mustered up a more authentic roll of pork.
I'd like to think that if Maeda-san, the originator of the ramen, were aware of how his shop had slipped he'd be here in a heartbeat. But he can't just hop a train from Setagaya to whip things into ship. That's too bad. It's our loss.
....In other ramen news, the latest issue of Chopsticks (March '08) a free English magazine/advertising rag available at Sunshine Mart, JAS Mart, and other Japanese businesses around town, there is a feature on ramen with coverage of 9 places around town serving the dish. Setagaya, Santouka are on there, as well as RaiRaiKen, Go Restaurant, Ippudo, Izakaya Ten, 212 Fukumatsu (212 52st. between 2/3 Ave.), Izakaya Riki, and Naruto. Interestingly, no Minca. As all the high quality ramen shops I've eaten at in Japan were dedicated ramen purveyors and not izakaya, I"m skeptical of how destination-worthy any of these non-ramen focused shops can be. So as we hold out now for Ippudo and Ichiran to negotiate the final stages of their arrivals, it seems we will continue on in tenuous ramen limbo.