Ramen, once regarded as the slacker food in the cheap little packets, has certainly become a thing over the last few years.
It has received adulation from foodies, and is on the radar even of the culinarily indifferent.
Queens has the bragging rights of being home to what is arguably the most celebrated noodle joint in the metropolitan area, Mu Ramen in Long Island City.
So when we heard about a newish ramen establishment, Shuya Café de Ramen, with a few quirky features, like billing itself as a furniture showroom, the pull was irresistible.
The sign outside the café features the name “Shuya” in the center, with the words “Café de Ramen” to the left, and “Furniture Showroom” to the right.
There is an explanation for this double billing. There is not one but two Shuyas involved.
There is Shuya Miyawaki, the Yokahama-born chef, and his business partner, Shuya Iida, designer and manufacturer of his line of custom made furniture. The petite dining room is fitted out in Iida’s lean, functional designs. The walls anchor a network of his meticulously crafted wooden rectangles, displaying an eclectic set of artifacts. The only wall art is a poster with the Shuya logo and the words
“Shuya Life Design Lab.”
Miyawaki, no slouch in the design department, created, with his wife, Hitomi Kamimura, the handmade pottery used in the restaurant.
The menu is spare like the design style. No pork broth. Five ramen variations. About a dozen tapas divided between hot and cold. No desserts. Tea and Japanese soft drinks. Cash only (be forewarned).
Korobuta popcorn dog was described as a “deep fried black pork sausage fritter.” Korobuta pork is sort of the Waguyu of pork. The most prized breed in Japan. It is the color of the pig rather than the sausage, which is black. It came in a paper cone in a bucket accompanied by a precious two-well hand-made ceramic condiment receptacle filled with a dollop each of mustard and ketchup.
Cute? Yes. Tasty? Yes. Weird? That also.
It struck me as a candidate for carnival food. It recalled to mind some of the oddities I encountered in Japan as takes on American cuisine like spaghetti with ketchup and sushi pizza. We wouldn’t have noticed anything special about the wiener nugget inside if we hadn’t read the menu.
The pork bun, a steamed bun wrapped around pork chashu, and egg tartar sauce, would make a substantial snack by itself. It seemed more Chinese than Japanese, but let’s not hold that against it.
Brussels sprout tempura arrived in a paper cone in a bucket like the popcorn dog. It comes drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt. The batter was light and crisp, and the Brussels sprout interiors took on an almost creamy texture. That being said, they were also kind of monotonous if you attempted to eat a whole order. They would be better if you were eating with friends, and ordered them for the table.
The main event here is unquestionably the ramen.
Miyawaki confines his broth making to chicken with fish or fish and clam. His broth has depth, character, and an abundance of umami, achieved without dependence on MSG, a matter of pride for this chef. The noodles are properly chewy. The toppings are of excellent quality, but not overly abundant. There is a list of extra toppings for $1 to $4 each. It makes sense to add a flavored egg for a dollar extra, but a buck for house-made spicy sauce? Same goes for grated ginger and fish powder.
Tea is extra, too, an unfortunate trend we’re seeing more and more.
Shuya Café de Ramen is a delightful place for an authentic bowl of noodle soup and other snacks. We see it as a great neighborhood spot, but only a destination if you live in a verified ramen desert or are also in the market for custom-made furniture.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
Shuya Café de Ramen
Price Range: Appetizers $3-$7, Ramen $12-$14
Cuisine: Ramen and Japanese snack foods.
Setting: Small, attractive, understated décor.
Service: Friendly, efficient.
Hours: Monday, Wednesday - Friday, 5 pm - 10 pm; Saturday and Sunday, noon - 10 pm; Closed Tuesdays
Credit cards: Cash Only
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes