New (to me) kind of ramen in my old neighborhood

During the four years I lived in Williamsburg and even the year before that when I was nearby in Greenpoint, I was always aware of the small, tucked away Japanese restaurant known as Okonomi by day and YUJI Ramen by night, but I never went. It was supposed to be great, everyone told me. Tiny, with only a few seats. No reservations. Great Japanese breakfasts till 3, then a new name and awesome ramen after 6. It was even on an episode of Master of None last year which is pretty much a stamp of approval from cool people in the food world.

But every time I walked by there was a crowd outside, people reading books or scrolling through their phones, all killing time till their tables were ready. So I kept putting it off, pretty much for four straight years, until my very last week in the neighborhood. On a random night in the middle of the week, alone as I made my way back to my mostly packed up apartment after a day of work and errands in the city, I thought on a whim, to see if there might be a spot for one.

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It didn’t look like any ramen I’d ever had but it immediately became one of my favorites.

And whaddaya know? There was. There were two actually, right at the bar, but almost immediately after I walked in, someone came in after me and took the other one, and not long after him several others popped in to be added to the waitlist. I hadn’t even ordered yet when I heard someone quoted 40 minutes for a table.

The menu was brief, which I, as someone who suffers from chronic menu indecision, appreciated. Pretty much just a couple of appetizers, a selection of ramen and a selection of mazemen, or ramen without broth.

Now, I love ramen, especially when the weather’s cold, or grey, wet and dreary like it has been for the past week here in New York. But the night I stopped by Yuji, a few days before Labor Day weekend, it was still steamy and hot outside and the idea of a brothless ramen sounded pretty perfect.

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The last couple of bites of a really delicious bowl of mazemen.

The bacon and egg mazemen I ordered was a beautiful bowl of yellow, ribbon-like noodles, thick-cut hunks of bacon, onsen tamago (pretty much a Japanese poached egg), mustard greens and bonito flakes (super thin dried, cured fish shavings). Before stepping away to let me fully geek out over my meal, the server had recommended that I stir everything up before digging in. I went for the egg first, poking it with a chopstick and letting the orangey-yellow yolk ooze out, seeping into the little spaces between noodles and bacon, sliding around the greens and bonito flakes that seemed to wiggle and shimmy in the heat rising from the bowl.

In the absence of broth, the yolk kept everything from being too dry and gave the noodles a silky, almost custardy consistency. The greens, meanwhile, added a green, peppery bite and the bacon, as it always does, a rich, fatty flavor. I wanted to savor every delicious bite and never reach the bottom of the bowl, but with no one to distract me and several people waiting for the very spot I sat in, I also couldn’t help slurping down every little bit of that mazemen in what felt like entirely not enough time.

My only regret at this point is letting all those years go by without trying this whole other type of ramen or without wolfing down a few more bowls of the particular bacon and egg version I had that night. I might live in a new Brooklyn hood these days, but I can tell you right now I’ll be back for those eggy, delicious noodles.

(Check out a little clip of the mazemen swirling action on my Instagram!)

Not those kind of balls

Some people like to kick off the weekend with drinks, and while I’m usually right there with those people, this weekend, which for me officially began at 3:30 this afternoon, started off with balls instead. No, not those kinds of balls. Octopus balls. Yea, no, still not those kinds of balls. Jeez, c’mon, an octopus doesn’t even have those kind, does it? Either way, we’re getting off topic here. I’m talking takoyaki, delicious fried Japanese savory snacks.

As soon as my shift ended I walked over to the tiny Otafuku in the East Village, known and loved for their takoyaki and other Japanese street eats, and got an order of octopus takoyaki.  Otafuku has them in three varieties— octopus, cheese and plain— but from everything I read online (i.e. a million and one gushing reviews) octopus was the way to go.

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Octopus tokoyaki from Otafuku. The weekend has officially begun

For $6 I got half a dozen golf ball sized, fried-to-a-golden-brown-on-the-outside-and-gooey-hot-on-the-inside balls filled with octopus, scallion and pickled ginger. The guy at the counter handed them to me naked and asked what I wanted on them so I asked him what was good. His answer? “Everything.” Letting him go to town on my balls (you’re loving this ongoing balls thing, aren’t you?) I watched him dress them up in a drizzle of mayonnaise, a generous all-over pour of okonomi sauce (a thick, tangy, sweet brown sauce), a dusting of aonori ( crushed up seaweed) and finally a topping of bonito flakes (bonito being a type of fish).

Always a fan of mixed textures and tastes in my food, I liked that the octopus balls were slightly crunchy on the outside put softer and a bit creamier on the inside. The sweetness of the okonomi sauce also paired well with the tanginess of the mayo, both making for a thick, tasty sauce to go with the subtle flavor of the octopus.

The only thing that could’ve made my start to the weekend even better? A frosty beer to go with my balls.

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