There are few dishes more appropriate in the miserable depths of winter than a giant bowl of ramen— and not the instant kind. A proper bowl of ramen is proof that there is no more satisfying way to package fat, salt and noodles, but should you seek a slightly more adventurous bowl, direct your attention toward the Hakata kuro (black garlic) ramen ($9.75) at Hide-Chan Ramen in Midtown East.
Owned by Bobby Munekata, who oversees something of a Japanese comfort food empire in the city (his other minions include Totto Ramen, Yakitori Totto and Soba Totto), Hide-Chan hides above a narrow staircase on a nondescript Midtown block. The décor is plain-Jane, but the restaurant gets crowded with suits at lunch, and, after closing for a few hours in the afternoon, fills up again at dinner.
The basics of the Hakata kuro include a rich, whitish tonkotsu pork broth, a tangle of wire-thin noodles and toppings of kikurage mushrooms, scallions, nori and two slices of chashu pork. This is all fairly standard. What makes this bowl different is its finishing touch: a heavy-handed swirl of tar-black ma-yu, or charred black garlic oil. Ma-yu is made by slowly cooking fresh garlic in a pool of sesame oil until the cloves have turned black. The whole thing is blended into a grainy, pungent liquid with an earthy, sweet taste. It’s added to the ramen just before serving, and the result is a striking bowl—the surface shimmering with black-stained pork fat and heady with the smell of almost-burnt garlic.
About that broth: the quality of broth can make or break a bowl of ramen. The tonkotsu that’s used in the Hakata kuro (and almost all of the other bowls available) at Hide-Chan is made by simmering pork leg bones for eightodd hours. The collagen and marrow in the bones are what give the broth its trademark whitish appearance and creamy texture. Hide-Chan’s tonkotsu is seriously rich—as in, flecked with bits of pork fat on the surface—and heavy on the salt, just the way it should be.
Equally as important to a proper bowl of ramen are its noodles, and Hide-Chan’s are outstanding. Lilywhite in color, long and exquisitely thin, they’re perfect for a delicate slurp. The noodles are made fresh every day at Soba Totto, across town, and sent over in the morning. Specify that you’d like them cooked "firm" when ordering, so that by the time you hit the bottom of the bowl they have softened a bit but still retain their toothsome nature.
The whole bowl is topped by a small mountain of silky kikurage mushrooms and crunchy scallions to help cut the fat, and two sheets of mineral nori that slowly soften into the broth. The finishing touch is two slices of chashu, fatty pork shoulder rolled into a log and braised to tender submission in brown sugar and soy sauce.
This is not a meal for peckish eaters; it’s a hearty, heady mix of strong flavors with plenty of fat and salt. In other words, it’s just about perfect.
248 E. 52nd St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)