Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Hidden Gem in Midtown: Hide-Chan Ramen

With temperatures hovering around the low 30s Fahrenheit and wind chills bringing it down to the teens, it has been a rough January in New York City and the entire East Coast. Since my return from Australia at the beginning of the year, I have been dreaming about ramen.  And once I heard about Time Out New York's "Ramen Rules New York" event held on February 8th, the decision was made and my friend and I braved the cold in search of ramen. 

Being the research freak that I am, I did a little reading before letting my friend know where to meet up with me. Hide-Chan in mid-town East consistently kept coming up as either the best or top 5 of best ramen houses in the city.  In the middle of one of the sweltering heat waves last summer, I had tried its sister restaurant, Totto Ramen, with my own sister. Despite sweating about 10 lbs of sweat in the tiny, un-airconditioned space, I still remember my eyes rolling back in bliss at my first taste of their miso ramen. With that in mind, I shot off a quick text with address to my friend and did a little ramen dance in my head. 

Named after owner/chef Hideto Kawahara, Hide-Chan is located on a quiet street of mid-town in the 50s. If I hadn't been looking for the restaurant, I would have walked past the unassuming storefront. With just a posted menu with no restaurant name in sight, you have to walk back a few steps to the edge of the sidewalk in order to read the name on the red awning above the door. You walk up the stairs to the second floor and are greeted immediately with the smiling hostess and warm incredible delight when you are walking in from the winter freeze. 

First things first, major props to Hide-Chan for posting their top menu items to assist first timers.  I did not order their #1 best sell, the Hakata Tonkatsu which is their traditional pork-based broth noodle.  But I did get the Hakato Kuro Ramen aka "Black Garlic" Ramen.  I had seen multiple postings about this dish and it was just calling out my name. 
I started off with the $10 Beer Tasting special which is a bargain. It comes with a pint of their draft beer (Sapporo) and a chef's tasting of 3 sides. That night, they served us a side of charred pork, BBQ squid, and seaweed with sesame seeds (pictured above).
We followed it with some silky homemade tofu and Tako Wasa raw octopus marinated in wasabi sauce (both pictured above). The octopus had a perfect bite. Most times I've ordered anything in a wasabi sauce, there is always too much wasabi that it is pretty unbearable.  Hide-Chan's had the right amount to give it a nice nasal-clearing kick. 

By that time, our ramen arrived including my Hakata Kuro Ramen (shown above) served with original "ma-yu" roasted garlic oil. Its inky-colored glory (from the blackening of the garlic) was magnified by the intense smoky, garlic smell coming from the broth. I was drooling even before one bite reached my mouth. The first taste did not disappoint.  Like most really good Japanese food, it is incredibly light to the tongue with clear flavors. Yet, there is a complexity with the broth and achieving that strong flavor without overwhelming the natural taste of the fresh ramen noodle. You will all be pleased to hear that not one drop or ramen noodle was left behind!

Usually I never order dessert in a traditional Japanese restaurant as it never looks so appealing or interesting. However, this time around we decided to share a bowl of their almond tofu topped with mixed berries. Delicious! Nothing mind-blowing, but comforting and a nice way to end the meal without putting us over the edge.  Rubbing our now slightly rounded tummies, we paid our bill, put our coats on, and happily headed back out into the cold with bowls of steaming ramen dancing in our heads. 

Hide-Chan248 E 52nd St between 2nd & 3rdNew York 10022; Telephone: (212) 813-1800

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