It’s been three years since I stayed up way past midnight (on a weeknight!) to head into a restaurant to experience really, really special ramen. Yes, that was in 2012 when Guchi, a sushi chef at O Ya, introduced the world to his fantastic “Guchi’s Midnight Ramen” during a series of late night pop ups that always sold out within minutes.
I remember coming home around 3AM that night thinking, “I can’t believe I just did that” while at the same time saying to myself “that ramen was insanely good . . .”
About a month ago, history repeated itself.
Bryan and I walked out into Harvard Square around 10:45PM to visit Alden & Harlow. A New York Japanese ramen shop called Mu Ramen, from Per Se alum Joshua Smookler, was doing a pop-up for just one night. Bryan had recently forwarded me a New York Times article from Pete Wells raving about the place, so it was already on both of our radars.
Despite the inconvenient time (we were hosting a Bible study dinner that night), we ended up convincing at least one member of our group to come along with us for a second, late night dinner.
The restaurant was packed!
We got seated around 11pm and decided to try most of the menu, since it wasn’t too big. Both Chef Smookler and Chef Scelfo contributed to the joint menu, each providing his own twist on Japanese street dishes. The left side of the menu was the Smookler side, while the right side was the Scelfo side. We had a party of three, so we ended up trying the entire menu (!).
U & I, a fun play on the word “uni”, was a gorgeous starter that everyone highly recommended, and for good reason. All the ingredients were incredibly fresh and came together beautifully. Spicy maguro (tuna) and ikura (salmon roe) sat on a thin layer of roasted seaweed, topped with a real treat: freshly grated real wasabi (most – if not all – of the wasabi you’ve ever had in this country is actually horseradish with food coloring). The slightly warm sushi rice was among the best I’ve had in recent memory.
It was, in short, divine, and definitely the best starter of the night.
Smookler’s other dish was a decadent Tebasaki Gyoza ($14), a pair of deep fried chicken wings stuffed with Hudson Valley Foie Gras and brioche ($14). It was perfectly breaded and fried, ridiculously decadent, and delicious, but tough to take in large quantities.
Garlic Scapes Okonomiyaki ($15) was a pretty good rendition of the classic Japanese omelette-pancake filled with very American ingredients: fried crab and Cabot clothbound cheddar. On top sat a scoop of tender raw shortrib and herbs. This dish was not bad, but didn’t blow us away like the other ones.
“I love chicken hearts!” Bryan quipped when he saw the Chicken Hearts Yakotori ($10) on the menu. Imagine a wooden skewer with five small chicken hearts tossed in cilantro salt. A couple of these came served over a yolk custard and fried chicken skin. The dish was good, although I realized that heart generally has an offal type flavor (sort of reminds me of liver) that I don’t love.
Bryan really enjoyed it, since he also happens to love cilantro (he eats it straight up like a salad!).
We didn’t originally order the Pickled Corn Takoyaki ($14) (Scelfo), but they sent these as a complimentary treat to tie us over because the ramen was taking so long.
We later found out that the restaurant had accepted way too many guests for the kitchen to handle. The servers were extremely apologetic, saying “we’re literally just waiting for water to boil.” There were a limited number of stoves, and my guess is that the Mu ramen team, fanatic about noodle texture, refused to sacrifice quality despite being slammed with way too many orders in an unfamiliar kitchen.
In any event, after two hours (around 1AM), we finally got our ramen.
And it was so worth it.
You would think that after sitting and waiting for two hours, getting more than just slightly annoyed, “hangry”, and downright sleepy (I usually go to bed around 1AM), we wouldn’t enjoy this nearly as much.
But it was so good.
Bryan and I immediately agreed it was the best ramen we’d ever had in any Boston ramen shop. The noodles were perfect – gorgeously chewy, wonderful texture. I’m so glad they didn’t skimp on that.
And the broths were phenomenal too. My favorite was the Spicy Miso Ramen ($15), made with red miso and ground pork, topped with menma (fermented bamboo shoots), fresh corn, scallions, and a sesame & chili oil. It burst forth with all sorts of flavor, having a solid spicy kick and tons of rich umami. I couldn’t get enough of it.
The Tonkotsu 2.0 ($15), an upscale version of the classic Japanese creamy pork broth ramen made with Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, came with ton toro (pork jowls/cheeks), kikurage (wood ear mushroom), menma, and scallions. I loved the creamy rich broth, the tender pieces of meat, and the overall high level of execution of the dish. It was definitely worth adding an Onsen Tamago (sous vide egg) for $2.
We had originally been told when we ordered around 11PM that the signature noodle, Mu Ramen ($18), was sold out, which made us super sad. However, at around 1AM, they brought all three ramen bowls to our table.
It turned out the people who had ordered the last Mu Ramen bowl (right before us), got so frustrated with the wait that they just left without getting their ramen.
We were originally most interested in trying this ramen because it’s so different. Chef Smookler was born in Korea, adopted and raised in New York as an Orthodox Jew. Mu Ramen incorporates both elements of his unique background.
The broth is made from oxtail and bone marrow, inspired by the Korean beef bone broth soup seolleongtang. Toppings conjure up visions of a Jewish deli: corned beef, a half sour pickle, cabbage, and some menma complete the fusion noodle dish. This one was definitely fun and quite tasty, but in the end, I preferred the more traditional Japanese ramen styles.
It’s probably not hard to deduce that I loved this place. The noodles (which I believe come from Sun Noodle) are excellent – I especially liked the thicker ones, which had an addictive “QQ” chewy quality to it. The flavors of the broths are out of this world. I still dream about that spicy miso ramen.
And guess what?
Mu Ramen has indicated via Twitter that they plan on opening up in Harvard Square in 2015 (woo hoo!). I’m thrilled at the thought of more excellent ramen in Cambridge, right around the corner from my house.