Restaurant Review: Instant Korean Ramen, Made the Hard Way -

Restaurant Review: Instant Korean Ramen, Made the Hard Way

Credit: nytimes.com

  • Dec 05 2017 17:00About: 6 days ago
  • 5 views


Before Jeju Noodle Bar came along in September, avid noodle watchers could have believed that the New York City ramen scene had reached a point of, if not saturation, at least diminishing returns.

High-functioning Japanese chains such as E.A.K., Ichiran and Ippudo had established beachheads. Ivan Orkin, Joshua Smookler and other chefs were having their way with the genre, following the trail of noodles left more than a decade ago by a young unknown named David Chang. Ramen tasting menus and ramen isolation booths were thriving along with stand-up and sit-down ramen counters. Appreciation for the finer points of tsukemen and mazemen, of seasoning shio and blending tare, had grown far beyond Japanese expatriates.

But fresh wrinkles on the classics were growing rare, while new ramen-yas came along so fast it was getting hard to keep them straight. All that remained, it seemed, was to fill in the blank spaces on the map until bowls of tonkotsu and shoyu ramen were sold everywhere from Tottenville to Gun Hill Road.

The one thing this view failed to take into account was the inspiration for Jeju Noodle Bar: Korean ramen.


Yes, Koreans eat ramen. Oh, do they. Last year, South Korean domestic demand for ramyun, as it’s known there, reached 1.16 billion pounds, a new high. We know the weight because almost all the ramyun made and eaten in South Korea is the instant variety. This reportedly also holds true in North Korea, where reliable sales figures are harder to come by.













In other words, Jeju, in the West Village, is a tribute to a packaged convenience store item made up of a compressed brick of dried or fried noodles and an envelope of powdered or concentrated soup base. Often it is sold and mixed in a disposable cup.

As important as ramyun is to the Korean diet, it is not the kind of culinary tradition that typically draws the attention of American chefs who have cooked at Per Se, Bouley and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, as Douglas Kim did before founding Jeju. It is somewhat as if a cook had left L’Astrance in Paris to open a restaurant specializing in interpretations of Hot Pockets.

To judge from the three soups on Jeju’s menu, Mr. Kim is not trying to reverse-engineer just-add-water Korean brands like Shin and Samyang. All of Jeju’s broths have the body and texture that comes with boiling and skimming for hours over an abundance of meat and bones.

One of them, the so ramyun, is made with veal. It is slightly less thick and rich than eggnog, but just as smooth. Mr. Kim ladles this broth over thin squiggles of chewy noodles, a hunk of stewed brisket and thin red sheets of raw Wagyu striated with white fat. Unbashful amounts of garlic chips and black pepper rough up the edges of the broth’s gorgeously rounded beef flavor.

The pork soup called gochu ramyun has a similarly lavish texture; heavy on the slippery collagen that holds pigs’ feet together, it glides across your lips. This broth, though, is spicy, and the gochujang spooned over the seared pork belly slab on top makes it even more so. This is Mr. Kim’s most obvious homage to Korean instant ramens, many of which are more fiery than the typical Japanese product. But Korean ingredients and seasonings turn up in all of his ramyuns. The gochu ramyun is garnished with daikon kimchi — not the pink, chili-bathed kind, but an unspiced white kimchi that, like the small sheaf of iceberg lettuce, provides a break from the heat.














In contrast to the milky opacity of the veal and pork broths is the translucent, sparkling-gold chicken broth in a ramyun called the Fish Coop. The fish in question is bonito, flakes of which bring a mild background of seafood to the intense chicken flavor. Even with slices of jalapeño and a floating green rim of herb oil tasting of chives and dill, the broth is subtle enough that you can really taste the juicy shreds of chicken confit.

Each of the three soups is so carefully considered, so well harmonized, that Jeju’s menu really could end there. But Mr. Kim makes a handful of Korean-inspired appetizers, too, all more nuanced than what you’d find in a typical ramen-ya.


I love the cucumber kimchi, skinny little numbers whose soft tartness is almost bubbly and very slightly minty. Is there shiso in the brine? There’s certainly plum in the sweet dressing dotted with black and white sesame seeds.



Mr. Kim’s soon du bu doesn’t have the gloom-killing uppercut of more traditional recipes — it’s a little too dainty and mild — but its tomato-shellfish broth supporting the usual soft tofu and some unorthodox but welcome green olives is very good on its own terms.

One of three raw-fish appetizers is tuna yuk hwe in a pallid, forgettable dressing. But the amberjack salad with chimichurri and brown-butter vinaigrette is very delicious, as is the hwe dup bap — sashimi and trout roe over warm rice made extra-fishy by tiny black dots of flyingfish roe.

There are a few other small dishes, including a likable steamed bun filled with pork belly and corn kernels. It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Kim elaborates this portion of the menu a bit, perhaps adding some larger plates. At the moment, it would be hard to make a complete meal at Jeju without ramyun, which may keep away people who don’t eat meat.

Like some other young chefs, Mr. Kim has brought his cooks into the tip pool by asking them to double as waiters. It may help him recruit talent for his kitchen, but it may also be a reason the service is muddled. I’ve been served food meant for another table; I’ve been asked the same question by two people within the space of a minute; I’ve been given empty plates I didn’t need, and had to stop somebody from clearing dishes I hadn’t finished.

The confusion even extended to the greeting at the door. One night when I got there before my guests, a host asked how far away everybody else was. I said I was sure they were close.

“Well, your reservation was at 8,” was the reply. It was 8:03.

These are minor gripes, but Mr. Kim’s cooking deserves better. And so does the dining room, which is roomier and more elegant than the words “noodle bar” might suggest. Jeju took over what used to be Nighthawks, in the space where the north side of Christopher Street meets the east side of Greenwich Street at an acute angle. It isn’t the room Hopper painted, but it’s not far off. Mr. Kim kept the wraparound windows, the black-and-white floor tiles and the recessed tin chandelier rosette, then added some backlighted shelves behind the bar to hold the handmade plates and other pottery.


It is all clean and orderly, just bright enough that when you stand across the street you can see the new nighthawks bending over their bowls of noodles.

Follow NYT Food on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Get regular updates from NYT Cooking, with recipe suggestions, cooking tips and shopping advice.












Follow Us on Twitter

Jeju Noodle West Village chef pays tribute just-add-water packaged soups with recipes that anything fast.

Related stories with Restaurant Review: Instant Korean Ramen, Made the Hard Way

Obama, the chicken nugget guy, among most retweeted in 2017 -World News
Obama, the chicken nugget guy, among most retweeted in 2017 6 days ago
NEW YORK — What do a former U.S. president, LeBron James and a guy who really, really likes chicken nuggets have in common? They all made the biggest splash on Twitter this year. Twitter on Tuesday released its top trending people and topics for 201
‘The Voice’ Alum Melanie Martinez Responds to Rape Allegation -World News
‘The Voice’ Alum Melanie Martinez Responds to Rape Allegation 6 days ago
The Voice alum Melanie Martinez has denied an allegation that she raped her former friend Timothy Heller. Hollywood’s Sexual Misconduct Scandals “I am horrified and saddened by the statements and story told tonight by Timothy Heller,
The Game: LaVar Ball Knows What's Best For His Kids -World News
The Game: LaVar Ball Knows What's Best For His Kids 6 days ago
The Game has some strong advice for all those judging LaVar Ball's parenting tactics
The long battle for control of Virginia’s House -World News
The long battle for control of Virginia’s House 6 days ago
IT WAS no great surprise when Democrats held Virginia's governorship in November. The state had been comfortably carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, auguring a Democratic victory for governor that was probably clinched by voters’ deep distaste for Donal
Watch as flares are set off in the crowd to mark Liam Gallagher’s arrival in Glasgow -World News
Watch as flares are set off in the crowd to mark Liam Gallagher’s arrival in Glasgow 6 days ago
Video footage has captured the moment that Liam Gallagher 's arrival on stage in Glasgow was greeted with flares being ignited in the crowd.
The Key for Happiness is to Making Our Dream comes True -World News
The Key for Happiness is to Making Our Dream comes True 6 days ago
  The Key for Happiness is to Making Our Dream comes True. The beauty of life is that there is so much variation and we want a
Aim for a high resistance give us the motivation for flourish into perfection -World News
Aim for a high resistance give us the motivation for flourish into perfection 6 days ago
  Aim for a high resistance give us the motivation for flourish into perfection   It will be a g
Brothers jailed after tying woman up with shoelaces and raping her -World News
Brothers jailed after tying woman up with shoelaces and raping her 6 days ago
They had just been released from prison after a different rape.
New Netflix Doc 'Wormwood' Explores a Dangerous CIA Conspiracy Theory -World News
New Netflix Doc 'Wormwood' Explores a Dangerous CIA Conspiracy Theory 6 days ago
Documentarian Errol Morris' forthcoming Netflix-produced series, Wormwood, takes a close look at the CIA's shadowy MK Ultra program. Instead of presenting a straightforward investigation, the series looks to blend together documentary-style interviews and
See Chloe Kohanski's Fierce Cover of Blondie's 'Call Me' on 'The Voice' -World News
See Chloe Kohanski's Fierce Cover of Blondie's 'Call Me' on 'The Voice' 6 days ago
Chloe Kohanski paid tribute to Blondie's "Call Me" on 'The Voice.'
Malaysia to use QR codes to ensure authenticity of Musang King durians -World News
Malaysia to use QR codes to ensure authenticity of Musang King durians 6 days ago
KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian government will be introducing Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology in the future to identify and differentiate Musang King durians from other varieties. Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Ahmad Shabery C
Comet Brings The Color Of Madness DLC To Darkest Dungeon  -World News
Comet Brings The Color Of Madness DLC To Darkest Dungeon 6 days ago
When a comet illuminates the night sky and lands in Miller's farm, the ruined windmill is the center of its own particular curse in The Color of Madness – the newly announced DLC for Darkest Dungeon. The DLC has no price and only a spring relea