Tabata Noodle is Worth a Visit, or Two or Three
One of the things that I love about ramen joints in New York City, is the sheer variety of options and riffs on noodle soup that one finds on the typical menu. Walk into Ippudo, Men Kui Tei, or Sapporo, and you’ll find the traditional, the experimental, and in the case of Tabata Noodle, a truly multi-national take on ramen. According to Julia Moskin of the New York Times, the owner of Tabata, Linn San Maung, as well as most of the staff are Burmese. Thusly, the ramen at Tabata seeks to marry Chinese, Indian and Thai (the primary flavors of Burmese cuisine) influences into a happy handshake with traditional Japanese ramen procedures. And with over a dozen variations of ramen, ranging from the more traditional Tan Tan Men to a crazy coconut based concoction that Danny seemed to enjoy, there are plenty of reasons to come back time and time again.
The interior of Tabata stands in stark contrast to the neighborhood. Hurry past the bums outside of Port Authority and duck into the brightly lit restaurant amidst an enthusiastic cheer of Irasshaimase!! (Please come in!) from the friendly staff. You could happily slurp elbow to elbow with your fellow diners at the counter, or take a seat at one of the cozy tables in the back. Whatever you choose to do, the waiter will plunk down a small salad with sesame dressing as soon as you’re seated – a nice little touch if somewhat unnecessary.
The appetizer menu offers interesting options, which again reflect the heritage of the progenitors. For the traditionalist, there’s edamame, gyoza, agedashi tofu, and pork chasu. These sit alongside wasabi shumai and other dumplings that one might find at a dim sum restaurant. Unfortunately my gyoza ($5), which were likely frozen, had probably seen better days. They were gummy bullets of dry meat and dull skin, served unappealingly luke-warm. But on the other hand, given the generous size of their noodle soups, appetizers are an overkill – and you can supplement your meal with a $3 curry rice if you’re really that hungry.
Both Julia Moskin and Lauren Shockey at Fork in the Road spoke dreamily of the Tan Tan Men ($9), a rich and nutty broth which gets its legs from long simmered pork bones and plenty of sesame. If your ideal bowl of ramen involves the rich, milky, tonkotsu style broth, you’re going to like the Tan Tan Men. Amidst the velvety broth, there’s roasted sesame seeds and plenty of ground pork. There are noodles of course, which reminded me of the flimsy noodles that one might find at Sapporo or Men Kui Tei, as opposed to the springy noodles served a few streets up at Totto Ramen. But whatever style you prefer, the curly garlic noodles at Tabata are unquestionably filling and satisfying.
Like other ramen shops, you can top your lunch with a variety of ancillaries – bamboo, egg, chasu, etc. Anticipating a heavy dish, I opted for a healthy dose of shredded scallion ($1) for its bracing flavor and crunch helped to cut the richness of the dish. Spice hunters will also want to request a side of their homemade hot pepper paste, which is synthesized from red chili peppers, fish sauce and lime – a recipe that immediately reminds you of Mr. Maung’s Burmese background.
As such, one might make the point that the recipes and techniques employed at Tabata Noodle stray too far from Japanese standards, and they’d be correct. But authentic or not, the noodle soups are no less satisfying or delicious. And with the variety of dishes on hand, one can not only eat very well for under $10, but also jaunt across South East Asia, all within the comfortable dining room of Tabata Noodle.
Tabata Noodle, 540 9th Ave (btw. 39+40th). 212-290-7691