141 First Ave., nr. 9th St.; 212-529-2740
Otaku is the Japanese word for the enthusiast whose enthusiasm borders on extreme geekiness, and in Japanese-dining circles there’s no one more enthusiastically geeky than the ramen otaku. These days, the city’s small but vociferous community of ramen otakus are gathering at the new East Village outpost of the Tokyo noodle shop Ramen Setagaya. And why not? The broth of their signature ramen is flavored not with soy but with artisanal rock salt from Vietnam. The noodle-cooking machines are equipped with special timers, to ensure that the organically correct ramen is perfectly al dente. The fresh grilled pork floating in the broth is organically correct, too, as are the bamboo shoots, the mushrooms, and the chopped scallions. And did we mention that single gently cooked egg, which binds this versatile, transcontinental dish together and makes it equally ideal for breakfast, lunch, or a nutritious late-night snack?
So what exactly does “best” mean in a city with thousands of pizza joints, hundreds of celebrity masseuses, and museum-worthy concept shops on every corner? Well, in the case of this, our annual “Best of New York” roundup, there’s a heavy emphasis on what’s new or what has somehow remained virtually unheard of (until now, of course).