DAY 1: Thursday
As soon as the plane wheels skid the ground in New York City, my husband and I make a beeline for the stuff we can’t get in the Triangle: really good Japanese ramen. Having already previously tried the well-known titan ramen-yas around town (Momofuku, Totto and Ippudo), I had scouted out a few noodle-ly contenders online beforehand: Hide-chan Ramen, Ivan Ramen, Nakamura, Momosan and Mu Ramen.
Our hotel, Hotel 3232, is located in Midtown, so Momosan Ramen and Sake wins out since it is closest in proximity, at only a couple of blocks, to our lodging. We had skipped out on lunch, so after a ride on the subway, with bellies madly gurgling in anticipation, we set out on the 11-minute walk over to the noodle joint.
Momosan Ramen and Sake is the noodle outpost of Chef Morimoto–yep, THE Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Reservations are not taken at Momosan, so at 5:15 p.m. we stroll right in and are able to get a seat at one of two communal tables in the back area. Momosan does communal tables correctly, with seating that is actually able to store handbags and jackets underneath (this is a big pet peeve of mine when restaurants don’t have space for these things). We skip the sake menu together entirely, and opt for bottles of the Orion lager and Rogue’s special Morimoto Hazelnut beer, because, well, we are from North Carolina after all.
To temper the hunger pangs, we order a pair of the kakuni baos ($4/each): strips of tenderly-braised pork belly cocooned inside two soft, fluffy bao buns topped with a lettuce sheath and a schmear of mustard mayo each. The tangy mustard mayo adds a unique twist to the standard pork bun, cutting more into the unctuous, fatty pork and I actually quite enjoy the addition. Though at $4 for each bun, it’s a bit steep, even by New York City standards.
The real revelation at Momosan is the tonkotsu ramen. At $13 for the large, it’s a sizable bowl, neatly composed and replete with a logo-stamped sheet of toasted nori (slightly cheesy IMO), a half of aji-tama (soft-boiled egg), takana (pickled mustard greens), kikurage (wood ear mushrooms) and a mound shaven pork charsiu floating atop the noodles in the center. The warm pork broth is shiny, and glimmers with only a hint of oiliness. It’s immensely satisfying, but doesn’t leave you feeling gross, and more importantly doesn’t shellac the tongue and throat in extraneous fat. The depth of the broth flavor is immediate, and the soy tare is deployed with enough restraint to achieve a nice balance in salinity. The alkaline noodles are bouncy and chewy, just the way I prefer them.
After several bites, I languish in bemoaning thoughts and regrets on why I can’t get this level of ramen in Triangle. I’ve tried most versions in Raleigh and Durham, and even dedicated ramen eateries like Dashi can’t seem to get it right. I also ponder about a recent perplexing experience at buku in Raleigh, where ramen was listed at $20 bowl. Really great ramen doesn’t even eclipse the $20 benchmark in New York City and San Francisco (in a recent trip out to Mensho), why should it do so in Raleigh?
We scuttle uptown towards Broadway, and make a stop over in a Zara store, when coincidentally, we run into a young Millennial couple directly behind us in line griping loudly about how they can’t keep their “919” area code if they switch their mobile carrier.
At 8 p.m., we file into Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, historically one of its oldest theatres. The theatre is one of those that you know is ripe with history–it’s a bit ornate and grand, but not big so that it still feels intimate. It’s Broadway, but we’re not there to see a musical, we are there to see comedians Nick Kroll (Kroll Show) and John Mulaney (SNL) reprise their roles as Gil Faizon and George St. Geeland in “Oh, Hello” on the big stage. It’s a limited run on Broadway and I’m glad we get a chance to see the comedic duo engage with each other as a hunch-backed pair of kooky, cantankerous old New Yorker chums fumbling and kvetching their way through their hopes and career aspirations. The “Too Much Tuna!” bit is interwoven in as well–along with a litany of pithy, funny one-liners about things like sweet treat– “Werther’s Originals are the Amber Alert of candies” according to Gil Faizon. The show may not be as ostentatious with song-and-dance numbers as its Broadway neighbors, but the laughs are consistent throughout.