Mu Ramen – review

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Mu Ramen

Would you be bothered if people watched you eat? I don’t mind if people see me do a great many harmless things, but for some reason chewing for a crowd feels a little unnerving. Well, that’s the way it is at Mu Ramen, the 20 (highly coveted) seat room in Queens, where homesick Japanese ex-pats and lovers of ramen from all across the 5 boroughs perch themselves for hours on benches surrounding the brick walls, staring and glaring at the lucky few who have graduated to back-less stools at the single communal table. Every one of my attempts (both failed and successful) at coiling a thick noodle neatly into my wooden spoon, every use of my chopsticks (both adept and disastrous) and every time a nugget of smoky ground pork escaped my grip and splashed back into the deliciously dark and sublime broth, I could feel the daggers, sniggers and snorts from the audience behind me: “Novice.” “Space waster.” “Unworthy.” “Manhattanite.”

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Mu Ramen

The only thing that shifted my focus from the crowd to the food – was the food. New York native Joshua Smookler who did kitchen stints at Per Se and Buddakan before opening this mega-popular ATM in Long Island City, boils bones and other carefully selected animal parts for hours and hours yielding 4 of the most delectable ramen broths in the western hemisphere. But more about them later. His 9-item menu is super simple and to the point with Treats (appetizers), Ramen (the reason we crossed the East River) and Toppings (to take the Ramen up a notch or two), but if you flip it over, you find yourself time-traveled back to Queens with three steak options, a pasta and the Harlan hamburger. Who orders a hamburger in a Ramen shop? We did. It’s a medium-rare hockey puck of chopped short rib, smothered in a super-jammy onion relish with a nest of shoestring fries and a square of melted cheese under a sesame bun. Certainly does the job – but by no means the main event.

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Harlan Hamburger, Mu Ramen

We started with something called U & I. It’s a combination of sushi rice, nori flakes, spicy tuna chunks and 3 slithers of Japanese sea urchin with salmon roe and a dollop of wasabi. It looks like a Sunomomo bowl, but the trick is to try and get a smidge of each ingredient onto the same chopstick without mixing them in order to fully appreciate the salty crash of the ocean – meets a jellyfish sting of spicy heat – meets a creaminess that folds everything into total sublimity. Next, we climbed into a bowl of charred and smoky, citrusy, salty yuzu-lemon Edamame. After finishing my “fair” share, I began to suck the remaining grains of lemony salt from the empty shells. This is most likely the moment I forgot I was being watched.

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U & I, Mu Ramen

Tebasaki Gyoza was our third “Treat” and perhaps the only real miss. When I lifted one of the scalding chicken drumettes, I became aware of two things: they are heavier than your regular breaded, deep-fried wing and they are also miraculously oil-free. The drumette bone has been replaced with a large nugget of brioche and foie gras, but as fetching as it might look – all bronzed, puffed up and seemingly crunchy, the rather gummy breading hid whatever flavor might have come from the rather mushy, fleshy stuffing. If I had a wish, it would be for chef Smookler to come up with another crowd-stopper like U & I while leaving the brioche and foie gras poultry stuffing to Daniel Humm at The Nomad.

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Tebasaki Gyoza

We tried 2 of the 4 ramen options. The Mu Ramen (a beef broth from oxtail and bone marrow) was unfortunately not available. We also skipped the I’ll Shoyu duck-based broth in favor of the two pork versions. Tonkotsu Ramen (the most frequently ordered item by my shoulder-to-shoulder neighbors) is a delightfully creamy broth with thin noodles, pork morsels, egg and vegetables. Not overly salty, very lean and wonderfully silky. They could have just as easily served it as tea.

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Tonkotsu Ramen, Mu Ramen

On the steamier end, the Spicy Miso ramen features a clear, dark, rich and wonderfully umami broth with scallion, strips of corn, ground pork clusters, thick noodles, sesame and a tinge of heat thanks to the chili oil. Once the solids were gone, I lapped up the remaining liquid like a good little Hello Kitty. Speaking of Tokyo, most of their Ramen broths tend to be more fish-forward, but either of these outstanding contenders can certainly hold their own next to any of those I sampled in the corridors beneath the Maronouchi station.

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Mu Ramen

As I rose from my seat, I could feel the spectator glares behind me turn into eager and appreciative smiles. While maneuvering my way out between their knees and umbrellas, I couldn’t help wondering if it would be too much to ask for a round of light applause for my performance.

Mu Ramen. 1209 Jackson Ave, Queens, NY. No website. Cash only.

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Legacy Records – review

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Perpetually groovy Manhattan hotspots Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones have a new baby brother. Chef Ryan Hardy of the Delicious Hospitality Group birthed his newest Italo-Seafood supper club Legacy Records in early March. The restaurant is visionary in many respects. Not only did San Francisco designer Ken Fulk do an absolute number on the new space, with a high-end tribute to art deco and mid-century luxury using liberal helpings of emerald green, gold and mahogany, but the far west location somewhere between the Javitz Convention Center and DHL’s distribution hub at the base of a condo tower is definitely out there – that is until Hudson Yards becomes the city’s newest it neighborhood.

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Legacy Records

Being able to snag a table at one of New York’s newest establishments delivers more than just bragging rights. First month jitters, growing pains and teething troubles often yield their own uniquely entertaining take-out stories, and Legacy Records is not immune. As we tried to gain access via the very masculine brick-and-steel Henry Hall condo lobby, a sign directed us to a side entrance, 50 feet away. Once there, a contradictory sign directed us back to the condo lobby. Then just as we marveled at the magnificently clubby, yet airy crescent bar and the staggering array of multi-leveled brass trumpet flower arrangements decorating the all-day dining café, we were suddenly immobilized by the instantaneous ambience destruction of a smoke alarm with intermittent deafening sirens and a pulsating cascade of flashing lights. Not exactly the tribute I had in mind for a former recording studio.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 6.26.00 PMAs you circumnavigate the bar, a series of bold and funky artworks by Mickalene Thomas adorn the walls that lead to a somewhat less formal dining area flanked by a row of windows looking out onto a concrete wall as high as a prison yard. My hunch, hope or suggestion might be for a vertical garden to slightly diminish the claustrophobia.

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Razor Clam Crudo, Legacy Records

The service has also not quite found its groove yet. After our waiter bragged that the butter was “especially imported”, a server seemed to think that it just came from “uptown”. (Turns out he clears tables at a different location for lunch and got his butter origins confused.) The only reason I’m making such a big deal about the butter is because it is indeed imported from France, and is accompanied by a cocoon-shaped dollop of rosemary-infused lard which collectively transforms the house-baked sprouted seed bread into a sublime and decadent feast. But the kicker came later in the meal when one of the bussers who was so intent on replacing our plates and flatware mid-course, that one of our table guests – who had 4 remaining mouthfuls to go – found himself at the defensive end of a tug-of-war.

“New plates,” the busser kept insisting.

“Not finished,” we kept replying.

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Diver Scallop Crudo, Legacy Records

But the kitchen is indisputably pitch-perfect. The highly recommended Crudo for the table arrives in a multi-level ceramic sculpture resembling an architectural model of a Santorini cliffside villa. It includes a Razor Clam in a wonderfully tart and tangy saffron espellette, a delectable lime-yogurt flavored Diver Scallop – diced but still in the shell, and sweet but heat-loaded, sashimi-smooth slithers of Fluke, thanks to some citrusy jalapeno. I felt a little sorry for the Japanese Sea Urchin that got drowned out by a blasting chorus of Dungeness crab under a shellfish-flavored aioli.

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Japanese Sea Urchin Crudo, Legacy Records

Some of the other small plates included San Daniele Prosciutto, hand-pulled Mozzarella and a charcoal grilled Pigeon, but we unanimously went for the seasonally appropriate and utterly rewarding Sunchokes. I cannot ever recall ever enjoying such dark and crispy lobes of sunchoke that gave way to soft and tender artichoke hearts and anchovies in a leafy, mushroomy salad.

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Sunchoke Salad, Legacy Records

The half dozen pasta options are also more intriguing than your Italian go-to staples. We had to skip the pea and leak Raviolo Doppio and the cuttlefish Spaghetti in favor of the wondrous chestnut Tagliatelle with shards of duck ragu in a rich rosemary and liver sauce. And I hereby commit to trying the über-popular shellfish Risotto next time.

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Honey lacquered Duck for Two, Legacy Records

The mains are the usual carousel of Italian RCB’s (Ribeye, Chicken, Branzino) with a Duck for Two as the absolute showstopper. The honey-lacquered roasted bird gets paraded around in her birthday suit featuring a dark mahogany crust with a rosemary plume before being whisked away for dissection and plating. “Our” duck made 2 separate appearances by 2 separate waiters, revealing that she was perhaps selected for objectification and exhibition purposes only. Regardless, I predict that the duo of super tender breast slices bordered by a nutty, spicy and delectably sweet skin are sure to elevate this dish to billboard status before the summer is over.

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Gelatos, Legacy Records

Desserts include a Rum cake and other equally odd bits and bobs, but the popular must-haves are the Gelatos served in cracker-crispy house-made cones. Right now, flavors like Bananas foster, Chocolate fudge and Yoghurt rhubarb were all she wrote, but I have a strong feeling that this repertoire will continue to grow as the temperature rises.

What better way to usher in the spring than a fresh new hit in a hip, new hood.

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/