Flatiron Lunch: Head to Ajisen as Ramen Season Arrives
Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
With the talk of Ivan Ramen coming to New York on the Food is the New Rock podcast with Deerhoof (What? You don’t listen yet? You should. It is kinda like ML in your ears) and my ensuing drool-inducing research on Eater, I needed a ramen fix. I can’t say there are many options for us Flatironers, but I had my eye on Ajisen Ramen, and, with the cooler weather, now was the time.
Ajisen Ramen is in the middle of the flower district with a massive sign, but with all the street activity, you might miss it. I originally noticed it from across the street with a Northeast Lobster Seafood Wholesale delivery truck. But they also have a large glass case out front with plastic displays of about 10 dishes which ought to catch the eye of some foodies. Although, I find that plastic food displays are less enticing than an ingredient list.
Inside, Ajisen is nicely set up for both take out and sit down, with a hallway to the register with plenty of room to stand and wait along the kitchen. On the left is a separate room for eat in, which I noticed always seemed busy but not completely full, so if you want to stay to eat you will probably have room to do so.
For my first visit, I had to try the ramen, the Ajisen deluxe ramen ($9.50), in fact. A quick note about packaging of the ramen. As they should, Ajisen built the ramen without the broth for travel purposes. This also meant that I was able to try just the broth, which seemed to have small flecks of shallots floating in it among other things. The broth had nice flavor, but subtle and a little less savory than I am used to. I think it needed a little more punch, because when poured over the noodles, it became a little bland. This was disappointing because I feel that ramen should taste better when all the flavors are combined (kinda like Captain Planet). The ramen might have benefitted from some chili oil or hot sauce, but none was included with my to-go package. I think I was profiled as a white female – “no way she could like spicy”.
Noodles seemed to have some brown flecks in them which leads me to believe they are made with a whole wheat. Since whole wheat doesn’t always taste the same, this might explain some of the complaints I read online about the noodles. They weren’t the best noodles I’ve had, but they did the trick. Since it isn’t apparent from the photo, hiding under the noodles was a large pile of chopped cabbage.
While tasting different pieces of the pork, I noticed that some pieces with more browning (left in the above photo) had more flavor. Not surprising, but worth noting to prioritize how you eat through the ramen.
I also took note of the tea soaked egg from outerspace. But seriously, what is the tea egging process that would lead to this pattern? Is it sitting in a chafing dish with holes? Polka dots are very in right now, so I’m on board.
Based on the online menu, I was really looking forward to trying the grilled eel fried rice or grilled eel rice set meal. But of course, the online menu isn’t accurate. I am always torn about bento boxes. I love the idea of them. My favorite meals are when I can get a bite of everything, which is why I almost always force my friends to order family style. On the other hand, I find bento boxes to be generally disappointing. They all seem to have the same options with teriyaki and tempura (Ajisen is no different). I think they fail because too many elements are prepared in bulk in advance and as inexpensively as possible.
Since the sushi counter looked grim on my first visit, I settled on beef negimaki ($8.95).
I was first surprised that it was battered and fried. I have never had, seen or heard of beef negimaki like this. Inside the roll, I didn’t see any scallions; instead, the thinly sliced beef was wrapped around a fibrous veggie (I think) that I couldn’t identify. It was so stringy that it all just pulled out with the first bite. When I deconstructed one to investigate further, the beef was well marinated and flavorful, and the batter was amazing and almost perfectly crunchy all round (perhaps avoiding the tempura was a mistake). They had a layer of cabbage under helped keep it elevated from the container and crispy.
In the salad corner, the carrot ginger dressing is normally one of my favorites, but it didn’t have the toasted sesame oil that brings it all together. The miso soup was watered down and bland.
The fried shumai were deep fried, which is fine, but I was more expecting a pan fried, which is my favorite preparation for anything dumplinged. Also, shumai I have had in the past normally have some identifiable filling, even if it is pureed together. This one was almost entirely dough colored, and it tasted like the essence of shumai and not actual ingredients. California roll was fairly standard.
I can’t say Ajisen is exciting as Ippudo opening in midtown, BUT you know you are going to want some warm, cozy ramen in the coming months, and Ajisen will fill that void. Also, I think there are additional items on the menu still to explore…grilled ell fried rice, I’m looking at you.
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Ajisen is the ramen spot I need for cold weather
- If the tempura dishes are as good as the fried negimaki, we are in business
- With at least 12 ramen options under $10, I could have a different ramen for every day of the week
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Even at $8.95, at least half the bento box items should be good or outstanding.
- I would rather save my ramen eating for the best in the city.
- With so many interesting dishes, why can’t they be part of the bento box?
Ajisen Ramen, 136 West 28th Street, between 6th and 7th Aves, (646) 638-0888 and (646) 638-1888