Aside from David Crosss favorite, Minca, Momofuku pretty much has the lock on the ramen market. But this Wednesday Setagaya, the first U.S. outpost of a beloved Tokyo chain (more of them will pop up here and in Boston) will go up against the Goliath with what manager Charlie Huh insists is 100 percent natural ramen made from 90 percent Japanese ingredients. Asked about Momofuku, Huh says, They get mostly American customers. Japanese people do not go to that place. Theyre pretty good but we can do much, much better.
Japanese eaters, Huh says, know that the secret is in the broth, and Setagaya uses a traditional recipe using just 10 percent meat and 90 percent ingredients such as dried anchovies, clams, scallops, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and (the secret weapon) Vietnamese salt, all boiled for five to six hours every morning. The noodles (made exclusively for Setagaya in California) are cooked for 50 seconds so theyre crispy and not as salty, Huh says, as Momofukus, and they're combined with pork thats barbecued on a charcoal grill. Ramen is the only thing on offer at Setagaya, but in a few weeks Oriental Spoon, a Pan-Asian restaurant serving sushi along with a few Malaysian and Thai favorites, will open in the back of the restaurant, with a garden behind it. If nothing else its something to tide you over until Momofuku moves to a space thats less crowded than an Indian trolley car.
Setagaya, 141 First Ave., nr. St. Marks Pl.; 212-529-2740.