A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

May 31.

Dinner -

Menkui Tei - 60 W. 56th St., Midtown West
Menkui Ramen (seaweed broth flavored noodle soup with roast pork, bean sprouts and bamboo shoots)

Tampopo has to be one of the all-time greatest food films (see also Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman). Between its quirky, surrealistic interludes, it depicts the title character going to extremes to create the perfect ramen soup. She has to hone her technique as well as her confidence. She has to hone her movements into a judoist dance, every stroke engineered to be lithe and exact. She has to perfect every ingredient individually before they can come together into a perfect whole.

The lengths Tampopo goes to achieve her goals only slightly exaggerate how central ramen is in Japanese culture. As essential to the Tokyo landscape as pizzerias are to Gotham, ramen soups promise a quick source of cheap, filling sustenance. But as with pizza, the best places can also elevate a seemingly easy-to-produce item to incredible heights. After seeing the soup so lovingly treated in the movie, I wanted to try the best of Manhattan's best. My experience was limited to the excellent Minca and the fairly good Momofuku but I hadn't yet hit the uptown Menkui Tei, which many say is the top spot in the city. Tonight would be the night to change that.

Located in the mid-fifties, where the Japanese restaurants are heavily frequented by Japanese clientele (the other area is, of course, my beloved St. Mark's), Menkui Tei is a very characteristic noodle shop. The waitresses greet you eagerly when you walk in, their Japanese accents asserting authenticity. The bar is taken up by solitary, black-suited businessmen, grabbing a bowl between deals. The decor consists of white walls and wooden tables topped with menus and Kikkoman bottles. It's as spare as can be, because the focus rests solely on soup.

Vince and I both ordered the namesake Menkui ramen, which was flavored with seaweed. Long strands of noodles sank to the bottom of the tan broth. Bamboo strips and bean sprouts mingled into the mix like sociable party guests. Triangles of pork floated serenely, pearls of oil glistening around them like gold ore. Following the instructions of the movie, I delicately ran the tips of my chopsticks along the surface and took in every element.

The soup was very good with the best element being the firm noodles. They confirmed the level of care a superior ramen shop must show. I also enjoyed the bamboo shoots, which almost had a mushroom-like quality. I found the broth too one-dimensional though, essentially salty and dark. It may have been that I just preferred tonkotsu, the pork-flavored ramen I enjoyed even more at Minca. It may have been that the movie had me expecting a earnest woman slaving over pot after pot of simmering noodles, giving her all to achieving the perfect bowl. Menkui Tei's product may not have been perfect like Tampopo's, but it was still a satisfying meal, one that's already making me crave a sequel. 7/10


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah that movie was awesome. I agree it is among the top food films that I know of. I actually work on 52nd and 6th and I'll check it out for sure. Have you been down to Soba Ya on E 9th?

4:11 PM  
Blogger Lonesome Hero said...

I have been to Soba Ya once. I definitely liked the noodles and many say they are very authentic compared to what you'd get in Japan. Also, they impressively make the noodles in house. Still, it was pretty expensive for what you get, though I guess you get what you pay for.

4:39 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home